Staff networks are a popular and beneficial addition to any equality, diversity and inclusion strategy.

They are a collaborative, safe, welcoming space for employees to gather and communicate outside of their management structure. If you are struggling at work due to discrimination, or are feeling isolated from the lack of diversity, you may be able to find support and solace in a staff network.

What is a staff network?

A staff network is a collection of employees who want to come together to support each other and organise to create change in the workplace. Most commonly, staff networks are groups of employees who identify as an underrepresented or a minority group. The networks are a place for employees to work together to create systematic change for diversity and inclusion.

Many large businesses and public-sector organisations recognise that a crucial element of satisfaction and wellbeing for underrepresented employees is a space dedicated to solving discrimination and bias in the workplace. Importantly, staff networks are created by staff, for staff, which means they function without the hierarchy of the outside organisation.

Usually, staff networks are supported and celebrated by the broader organisation and are used as an advisory board for decisions made regarding that particular group. For example, if an employer was creating new anti-racism policies, they may refer to the Black Asian and Minority Ethnic (BAME) staff network for guidance.

Examples of staff networks

One organisation that has a variety of functioning and successful staff networks is NHS England. They believe that staff networks are essential to ensure staff feel supported and happy at work, which positively affects the patients they are caring for.

They currently have five staff networks:

  • Black and Minority Ethnic (BME) network
  • Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Trans+ (LGBT+) network
  • Disability and Wellbeing Network (DAWN)
  • Women’s Development Network
  • Muslim Network

Each network is open to any NHS England staff member who identifies as part of the underrepresented group and has a positive interest in pushing equality and diversity throughout the NHS. These groups work together to ensure a safe and positive working environment for their staff members throughout the NHS. They also help encourage NHS to maintain and develop a diverse workforce in all areas of the organisations.

You can find out more information about their networks on their website.

How to support a staff network?

While staff networks must be made up of and run by the employees, they aim to represent employers and the broader organisation have a supportive role to play. For a staff network to be successful, such as the ones indicated above, it’s essential that employers show public support for the networks, and encourage their staff members to join them or create ones.

If you are an employer looking to support your staff networks, some key things to remember include:

  • Budget: Networks will need money for training and events and smaller expenses such as refreshments for meetings. Having a budget will ensure that the network is sustainable.
  • Allocate time for the network: For staff to run and participate in a successful network, they will need time throughout the year to organise and plan. Ensure staff can build this time into their schedule, so they don’t have to do it in their own time.
  • Publicise: Consider advertising the staff networks on your website and any other marketing material you have. The more members of staff that know about the network, the more successful it will be.