Setting Up An LGBT Company Network

Mark McBride-Wright Events Leave a Comment

Our first main formal business event was hosted at WSP offices, Holborn from 6pm on Wednesday 25th March. Around 40 turned up to listen to Matteo Lissana (Client Account Manager, Stonewall), Thomas Andersen (Inclusive Networks), Mark Mackenzie OBE (TfL) and Andy Smith (BP) talk about their experiences of LGBT company networks.

Matteo kicked off first and spoke about the work which Stonewall do as part of their charitable remit. He indicated that Stonewall are able to help out in the compilation of the business case for establishing an LGBT company network. Some interesting statistics included 1 in 4 LGBT workers are still not out at work, and alarmingly 2.4m people witness homophobic bullying in the workplace whilst 800k suffer physical abuse.

An LGBT company network can change the culture of workplace and how it is perceived outwardly. LGBT staff can feel isolated and so a company network provides a forum for them to meet like-minded colleagues and supporters. We are less likely to take on new career opportunities as they arise when we are nervous about perception.

More LGBT visible role models in the work place are needed. It is critically important to engage women. Lessons can be learnt from the women’s network your company may already have.

Matteo directed the audience to Stonewall’s Workplace Guide and their top 10 tips for setting up a network. These are:

  1. Establish a business case
  2. Set out realistic aims and objectives
  3. Get senior staff on board
  4. Have different levels of membership
  5. Promote network internally and externally
  6. Support career development of LGBT staff
  7. Appoint LGBT chairs or representatives
  8. Get involved in service delivery and business consulting
  9. Engage with network groups in similar sectors and regions
  10. Measure and evaluate success

Thomas Andersen from Inclusive Networks (I-N) spoke about his time working at Co-op and setting up their network Check-Out. He has since gone on to set up I-N which is a business which provides consultancy advice and support to companies interested in setting up successful networks.

Thomas indicated that it is important to perform some internal market research and have focus groups with staff members to know what they want to get out of a network. After launching, have different levels of membership for managing mailing list. This could be important when reaching a critical mass.

He reiterated the workplace guides by Stonewall. Use them! The concept of staff network groups is not a new one. Approximately 15 years old in fact. Connect with inter-company or sector groups (e.g. InterEngineering) and use those networks for guidance and advice.

Setting up steering groups sends a clear message for staff retention. Employees feel like they have a voice. Network must be inclusive for all, and accessible for part-time and contractor employees so as not to alienate staff working on flexi-time contracts.

Thomas invited us to consider the branding of our networks. “Networks don’t happen themselves. Buzz factor – create a brand!”

An example of this is CelebrateLGBT (@CelebrateLGBT), the LGBT network of Action for Children. Management were so enthusiastic about it that it was rebranded to be brought in line with the corporate branding, hence the similarities in the logos for the main parent company and the network. It creates a professional feel and validates corporate endorsement.

Plan ahead for getting quotes from senior people and aim for diversity in events: “Pride is not everyone’s cup of tea. Some prefer a quiet cup of tea!”

Some networks are extremely successful and have helped inform external engagement in the media. Promote and celebrate your network. Perhaps consider creating a staff network magazine and (possibly) even external adverts. This helps validate the company as an active supporter of LGBT inclusion, as opposed to a passive participant who has policies to comply with legislation, but does not necessarily translate into practice so as to affect corporate culture.

Mark MacKenzie from Outbound (@TfLLGBT) offered a unique insight.  The network is now 10 years old. Five networks launched at same time. The age network eventually blended with others.

When setting up your network, start with the end in mind. Discovery-to-Implementation. Implementation is hardest. Laws were changing when Outbound was set up and so managers needed training and therefore came to the network group for advice. The benefits from setting up Outbound have been lower staff attrition rates, and even lower staff sickness rates.

Mark suffered in a previous role when there were no anti-discrimination laws in the 90s. This experience made him feel wary when being asked to set up an LGBT network. However, he was welcomed by TfL when setting up @TfLLGBT and the network was sponsored by senior director. This was a very different experience from his previous role.

Setting up a network involves logistics. Establish a:

  • Committee
  • Terms of Reference
  • Voting Rights Group
  • Elections
  • Constitution

Crucially important is representation from L, G, B and T on the committee. Implementation is the hard bit and there will be ups and downs. Indeed, your organisation may not be ready for it yet.

Management asked the network who they want to be the network’s sponsor. Outbound initiated the campaign “Let’s Get Better Together” (LGBT!) in TfL with the workforce which led to increased awareness. In order to maximise returns, share resources and funds amongst staff network groups and do joint events.

Andy Smith from BP offered an update on BP initiatives as InterEngineering’s connection with BP Pride. They run a company survey for measuring level of engagement with the workforce. This helps inform strategy structure.

Educating on the business benefits of company networks can increase buy-in with the workforce. Straight allies and role model initiatives are important. The company should link with STEM strategy as well for appealing to next generation of engineers.

Andy made a critically important point: “You do not get change embedded until it’s at line manager level.”  This framed the importance of this event. By bringing together engineers and allies with an interest in LGBT diversity and inclusion, we hope to encourage and inspire you to consider: what can you do in your organisation to influence change?

Senior management set targets and metrics and this can drive change from the top. So far, this has tended to happen when there has been a personal drive from a senior manager to instigate change. From a grass roots level, engineers lower in the ranks should speak up and influence change bottom-up. Combined with a drive from top-down, then success is highly likely.

Companies with established networks commonly enter the Stonewall Workplace Equality Index (WEI). This requires a financial commitment which some firms may not have the capital for either presently, or not at all. This should not be a reason for not establishing a network. It can be a goal to aim and aspire towards if it is something the business would like to do and is a fantastic way of indicating commitment to LGBT diversity. TfL rose from 59 to 5 in the WEI and it has had a direct effect on LGBT applications.

You can download the presentations for future reference here:

We would be extremely interested to hear from you if you have a company network, or are thinking of setting one up. Please do get in touch!

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