The value of minority group networks

The value of minority group networks

Networks at work should transform to make them more effective, according to new large-scale global research from Women Ahead, a social enterprise that supports the development of women in sport and business.

The ground-breaking research examines the value of minority group networks and assesses the effect that the different ways men and women communicate has on traditionally run ‘networking’ sessions. The scope of the research examined the changing language around traditional women’s networks to include men and women in the drive to reach reach gender parity.

Women Ahead’s ‘Networks That Work’ research programme, which interviewed network heads representing women’s, disability, BAME, LGBT and other networks in 31 global companies, revealed that by making a few changes the networks could work better for their members and organisations.

CEO of Women Ahead, Liz Dimmock, suggested new ways of working at the launch of the research findings at PwC in London on 12th January, attended by more than 180 heads of diversity and talent at organisations including Microsoft, LinkedIn, Google, UBS, Shell and Amazon. She was joined by speakers including Birgit Neu, Global Head of Diversity and Inclusion at HSBC, Sarah Churchman, Human Capital Director – Talent, Inclusion & Wellbeing – PwC, Jonni Learoyd, HR Project Leader, Channel 4, and Nishma Robb Head of Ads Marketing at Google.

By applying neuroscience to these large-scale qualitative research findings, the team at Women Ahead has designed International Standards for Effective Networks that can be applied at any stage of a network’s development to maximise its impact on diversity and inclusion, and a range of practical tools to use.

DO WE NEED WOMEN’S NETWORKS?

Women Ahead’s Head of Research Jane Booth said : “There is a view from some women and men that women’s networks are an unfair intervention that simply serves to highlight the gender gap – however, men are more often than not already surrounded by other men within an all-male, or virtually all-male, group. Women’s networks are necessary to provide a space for women, who are in a minority at work, to have a voice. However, as networks grow and mature, there is recognition of the increasing need for these issues to become more mainstream and for gender parity not just to be seen as a ‘women’s issue’”.

The research revealed a move towards the use of the word ‘balance’ being used in gender network titles to reflect the modern reality that gender parity needs the support of men as well as women.

In fact, the research found that some people view being part of a women’s network as a barrier to success, by pigeonholing themselves or making themselves stand out. This is despite the fact that women’s networks are the most prevalent form. However, the research also revealed that although many networks are run ‘off the side of the desk’ and not officially recognised as valuable, being part of a network is a positive personal and professional move.

“The research revealed a move towards the use of the word ‘balance’ being used in gender network titles to reflect the modern reality that gender parity needs the support of men as well as women.”

NETWORKING EVENTS TO EVOLVE

The Women Ahead research examined the different ways men and women communicate, and the traditional setup of networking events. Academic research shows that men tend to have much larger, more superficial networks, whereas women form smaller, deeper and more personal connections. The traditional golf day, the boardroom lay-out, the business card swap sessions, the football ‘chat’ around the meeting room – all designed by men, for men for them to do business in the ways in which they feel comfortable.

Many of the events delivered through minority group networks in the research adopted the traditional formula for large-scale networking events with a keynote speaker, Q&A session and ‘networking’ time – despite the knowledge that women generally prefer to communicate in smaller, more reciprocal groups.

Jane Booth said : “Our research reveals that women have a strong unease and dislike for ‘networking’ and are frequently fearful at the thought of walking into a room of people who they don’t know, and feeling there is an expectation to ‘go forth and connect’. So while there is clearly a recognition that women and other minority groups need something different from the current norm; the opportunities provided are still often based on the traditional networking format.”

Women Ahead’s International Standards for Effective Networks suggests that networks should move from being a place where people can ‘network’ to where they can connect on a deeper level with fewer people, and also learn the skills of networking in a safe space.

Liz Dimmock said : “Among those interviewed, networking was cited as the most feared developmental challenge for an aspiring leader and yet networks were not addressing this learning issue. We suggest that the goals of networking should move more towards making three quality connections that you will follow up after an event, rather than many that you will not. This way of working is likely to suit women – and many men – better.”

“Our research reveals that women have a strong unease and dislike for ‘networking’ and are frequently fearful at the thought of walking into a room of people who they don’t know, and feeling there is an expectation to ‘go forth and connect’.”

LITTLE FUNDING AND SUPPORT

The research found that although networks are seen by heads of diversity and inclusion as a useful tool to reaching their goals, there is little formal financial or human investment into the setup or delivery of networks. The Women Ahead International Standards for Effective Networks suggests that robust evaluation of networks would allow for better business cases to be made and greater support given.

SCOPE OF RESEARCH

The research examined 31 global organisations employing more than 1,770,000 (1.77 million) people worldwide in more than 150 countries and across 14 sectors. There are more than 180 networks in operation within these 30 companies. Three cross-sector networks with a combined global membership of over 16,000 were included. Interviews were undertaken with Global Heads of D&I, Heads of HR, voluntary network chairs/co-chairs, network members, network committee members, and network leads.

PwC and HSBC, which benefit from significant internal networks, collaborated with Women Ahead to support this research. Inclusive Networks is listed as one of the participating organisations in the published report.

Nobody is more influential when it comes to communicating your company’s brand and workplace culture, than the employees themselves. If you’d like to share your workplace, employee and community engagement and network group news and updates with our readers, then we’d love to hear from you. You can contact us here!

About The Author

Thomas Anderson

Founder and MD of Inclusive Networks. Thomas was Chair of the award winning LGBT network for The Co-operative Group, ‘Respect’ (2011-14). Thomas named the network and designed and managed all of the branding, communications and engagement until he stepped down from the role of Chair in March 2014. He also created the branding, name, was Editor of the quarterly magazine and developed the launch of the UK’s first Inter-Retail LGBT network ‘CheckOUT’. He contributed to the Stonewall Workplace Equality Index 5 Year review. In recognition of his work in the diversity field he was shortlisted for ‘Diversity Champion of the Year’ at the 2013 European Diversity Awards, shortlisted for ‘Role Model of the Year’ at the 2012 Lesbian & Gay Foundation Homo Heroes Awards and shortlisted for the ‘Positive Action’ award at the 2013 Asian Fire Service Association Fair & Diverse Awards. He also won the 2012 ‘Pride of The Co-operative’ award. He was a judge for Scotland's biggest diversity awards, The Icon Awards in 2016, 2017 and 2018.

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