Diversity Networks are personal development and interest based networks focused around individuals with protected characteristics. They usual educate and advocate as well as providing information and the opportunity to network and find mentors or role- models. Their membership is usually broadened to included “allies”.

Summary by The World of Work Project

 

Diversity Networks

Diversity networks are primarily created to bring together and promote the interests of individuals from specific diversity strands. Such strands could include: ethnicity, gender, disability, age and sexuality.

These networks typically hold networking and development events, communicate widely and promote the interests of their members. They work to help ensure that the wider population has an understanding of the diversity strand, to champion for greater levels of inclusion for the diversity strand and to help members of the diversity strand develop and build supportive, mentoring and role-modelling relationships. As such, they are great places for individuals to find mentors or volunteer to become mentors.

As well as attracting members of the specific diversity strands they represent, most diversity networks also work hard to attract supporters and advocates from all walks of life.

Many large organizations have their own diversity networks within them. Though smaller organizations may not have the size to support their own diversity networks, they often have the opportunity to join and contribute to industry wide diversity networks.

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Setting Up Successful Diversity Networks

Diversity networks are useful in many organizations. They take some effort to set up, though, and there are some common mistakes that people make when trying to do so. The set up is often the easy part. Keeping them going also takes effort.

different colored pencils representing Diversity Networks
There are many types of protected characteristic.

To set up a successful diversity network you need to ensure that you have the following:

  • A clear common purpose or interest
  • A shared identity (usually with a name or brand)
  • Effective steering and leadership
  • Sponsorship from senior leaders in the organization
  • Effective coordination and administration for the group
  • Good communications
  • Interested members
  • The ability to actually make a difference and change things
  • Specific deliverables that help build momentum
  • Collaboration tools to help people work together remotely
  • Guests and speakers
  • Role-models
  • Recognition of success, and
  • Reasonable expectations of the members

A conference, representing an activity that might be led by Diversity Networks
To be successful you need actions as well as just big meetings…

Hints and Tips

Even if you have all of these factors in place and are ready to get going and set up your diversity network, you can still face problems. The following hints and tips, or words of warning should help you be even more prepared:

  • Split the leadership of your community. Arrange for co-chairs to share the duty of being a figurehead and chair. This division of responsibilities will help ensure that at least one person is always available.
  • Use technology as much as you can to help you communicate. Share your agendas on line, share recordings on line, share pictures on line and strive to build a community.
  • Remind everyone of everything. Remind speakers that they are speaking, remind members of events, send invites to block space in people’s calendars and never be too proud to chase people or remind them of things.
  • Listen to your members. The groups you create are primarily for the benefit of your members. It’s hugely important that you actually listen to what’s on their mind, their challenges, their desires and their proposed solutions. Co-creation is your friend when it comes to diversity networks.
  • Always have a contingency plan. As diversity networks are seldom the core of individuals roles, they will often have last minute changes to their plans that mean they cannot attend meetings, and so on. Try and always be prepared to go ahead with your plans despite these set-backs.

Learning More

Diversity networks are often used to improve diversity and inclusion, a topic you can learn more about through our series of podcasts. Creating networks like this is the type of thing that might be done as part of an organizational development program.

A simple activity that you can use in your team as an icebreaker to start a conversation about individual differences is maps & pins. If your team is more advanced, you might consider the self revealed stereotypes activity as well.

There are many reasons with organizations are not diverse and inclusive, including unconscious biases. These are a form of cognitive bias. They can affect many parts of our work, particularly recruitment. Our podcast on this topic is below.

The World of Work Project View

Diversity networks can be very powerful and effective examples of development networks that coalesce around a group of individuals with protected characteristics. When they are well run, they hugely help with development and also with a inclusion or a sense of belonging.

It’s very important though that they are not simply talking shops that spend all of their time in meetings and do not take any actions. There is often a risk of this. Of course, many organizations don’t actually give individuals the time to help these networks flourish. Similarly, to be able to actually make changes these networks also need senior sponsorship, which is again often not truly provided.

We also strongly recommended that diversity networks’ memberships are not exclusively limited to individuals with protected characteristics. Instead, diversity networks really should be opened up to all types of individuals.

Overall we think that diversity networks are important and that large organizations should have them. For smaller organizations, we recommend joining and supporting industry wide diversity networks, or geographically based diversity networks.

This post has been informed primarily by our experiences over our careers and does not reference any specific sources.

We’re a small organization who know we make mistakes and want to improve them. Please contact us with any feedback you have on this post. We’ll usually reply within 72 hours.