An insightful and piece by guest blogger Debbie Robinson - diversity and inclusion practioner working in a busy NHS Trust
Networks have been the oxygen that has breathed energy into my role as a diversity and inclusion lead in the NHS.
I started my journey of learning nearly seven years ago, a new role with a brief to develop the profile and workplan needed to steer our organisation to be an inclusive and welcoming workplace for all. Our staff survey results told us a story of difference and disparity in our workplace. I was fortunate to be able to join a national programme with like-minded colleagues who had a lot more experience than me. Networks they said, staff networks, that’s your starting point. They hold the key as cultural interpreters, experts by experience, the voice of those that are marginalised and minoritised. You will never move the dial on structural discrimination without your networks onboard. And if you haven’t got networks you need to get them started! Made sense – we talk about collaborative working with patients and service users so why not our workforce. Sound advice indeed and I am forever grateful to those who shared their time and knowledge to get me started on this journey.
And an incredible journey it has been so far – listening, learning, working alongside brave and courageous network leaders, facilitating celebration events, sharing improvement ideas and tough talking at Board presentations. Creating safer spaces for peer support and helping each other to be a united voice for change.
Seeing the value and recognition of staff networks now it’s hard for me to imagine a workplace without them. How can you be assured of your organisational culture without hearing from those who are directly impacted and disadvantaged by one dimensional processes and policies that assume everyone is on a level playing field? We can only change this by bringing the expertise by experience into the room and working together on inclusive practices. Yes, it takes time, it also takes time to unpack when things go wrong and costly for everyone involved.
One thing I didn’t know seven years ago was how valuable allies would be to the networks. One of the most powerful examples of this for me was at a recent awareness event. A network lead standing side by side with their Line Manager. I was blown away by how knowledgeable they were about the network and the value they placed on supporting their team member to be the lead. They talked passionately about the need for the network and how much they had learned from supporting their colleague to bring to life their vision of a peer support group for people in the same situation as them. This was authentic allyship at its best and I was genuinely moved to tears hearing them actively promoting the network to staff and patients as they visited the stand.
This is the thing about staff networks, when you believe in them and know their power – they get into your DNA. I honestly can’t get through a single working day without mentioning them, referencing them, championing them. I have learnt so much from every single network lead and member I have had the privilege to work alongside. We have cried, laughed, cheered, raged together. Celebrated and commiserated. Tried, tried and tried again to build membership and engage and when it comes, even in singular numbers, makes all the effort and energy so worthwhile.
So, I stand with you staff networks – alongside you, behind you, in front of, wherever you need me. I have a lanyard full of allyship badges you have gifted to me, which is a great conversation starter by the way.
Never stop pushing forwards and challenging the status quo, holding organisational leaders to account and continue to grow your social movement for change. You are changing lives and making work better more than you know.
About the Author
Debbie Robinson is an experienced Diversity and Inclusion practioner