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Raise The Bar


As we celebrate the National Day for Staff Networks on the 8th May, I have been reflecting on  progress since 2017 – the first network day and when I was first appointed as a diversity and inclusion lead, a great coincidence!


In the early days of my role, I knew staff networks held the key to creating an inclusive workplace.  I was committed to ensuring this was not a checkbox on a diversity agenda and that the networks would be vibrant hubs of empowerment, collaboration and advocacy. 

I was not disappointed.  The energy and commitment of those who stepped forward to lead was inspiring and enabled me to hang onto those values, to create authentic and safe platforms for engagement.


At the start no one wanted to talk about terms of reference or objectives and action plans.  They wanted to get out and meet people, build relationships and create a social movement for change.  I was right there with them, wanting to bring a fresh and authentic perspective to the diversity and inclusion work.   

  

One thing I learnt very quickly was the need for boundaries.  Without clear purpose and structures there is a vulnerability for networks.  The risk of being consumed into transactions and process rather than providing the guidance and advice as experts by experience so that those who have responsibility to deliver get this right. 


Developing robust terms of reference and spending time defining the purpose and objectives of the network are the foundations of a roadmap to success.  I have taken to quoting Simon Sinek when talking about purpose and objectives, the “why” is what people engage and connect with.  It’s the simplest explanation to ensure this is not overlooked or lost as networks grow and mature.


So how far have we come since 2017. 

I have changed the way I work, moving to a coaching style to support networks rather than a directive leadership approach.  They do not need me to lay out a raft of corporate needs, they need me to help them navigate systems and structures, reach out to their colleagues and create psychologically safer places for connection and peer support. 


Networks are networking and joining together as collaboratives, further driving the diversity and inclusion improvements.  At a recent Black Leaders network event in London the room was full of smaller networks listening to esteemed speakers talked of overcoming barriers and progressing in a system that was structured against them.  The call to action was “lift as we climb”, supporting each other through those organisational barriers and blocks. A collaborative and unified approach has strength.


Network leaders are becoming embedded into organisational structures.  Partnership working is visible and tangible. Our workplaces are becoming more dynamic and diverse.  Forward thinking organisations are investing in staff networks as a strategic business decision as they recognise this will lead to a more inclusive and higher performing workforce.


There is still much to do to maintain this momentum. When we create the right climate and conditions for staff networks to thrive, we all raise the bar together.  We, as leaders, have a responsibility to ensure networks are able to navigate the higher expectations while staying true to their origins and purpose. 


 

Debbie Robinson is our guest blogger. She is

D&I specialist and a champion of staff networks

  

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