The importance of diversity networks

This week Bloomberg reported that the US arm of Deloitte is planning to replace its women’s and ethnic minority networks with inclusion councils where white men also hold seats at the table. I was at an event with race equality campaign members supporting the consultation on the Mayor’s vision for a diverse and inclusive society – including HSBC and Deloitte – when I heard this news and Deloitte confirmed they have no plans to do this in the UK. However, it does raise some crucial issues about the importance of networks in boosting workplace diversity.

We know from our Diversity Benchmark that organisations with networks that have an executive-level sponsor and budget, as well as input into the organisational strategy, not only have more BAME (Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic) employees overall, but also have more BAME managers. Given that BAME people are under-represented in management roles – just one in 12 managers and one in 16 senior managers is BAME, compared to one in eight of the working age population – these networks can have a significant impact on BAME employees’ progression.

Networks also offer a wide range of benefits to employers. For example, having a senior-level sponsor for diversity networks means that your organisation’s board executives and most senior leaders are able to hear directly from diverse employees about their views and experiences, as well as any challenges they may face within the organisation. Alongside employee surveys cut by diverse groups, employers can use this knowledge to identify gaps in perception and seek views on how they can take action to close them. They also provide opportunities to open up the dialogue around talking about race in the workplace. Our Race at Work report highlighted that this is not something many people in the UK are comfortable talking about, and diversity networks provide leaders and employees in the workplace with an opportunity to talk about these issues.

Additionally, networks can help BAME staff to stay in their current organisations as well as progressing up the ladder. The ‘Equality, Diversity and Racism in the Workplace’ report from the University of Manchester found that networks can act as a ‘safe space’ for BAME employees to speak openly about their experiences, such as dealing with workplace bullying and harassment or how to navigate the organisation. Making new employees aware of the employee network groups that you have and encouraging them to join them can also help employees to access a level of support and connection which means they are more likely to remain with the organisation. In an increasingly competitive market, using networks to retain diverse talent could be hugely helpful for employers.

The recent McGregor-Smith Review recommended that ‘Employers should support the establishment of [inclusive] networks and encourage individuals to participate, working with organisers to find a suitable way of incorporating their objectives into the mission of the company.’ We support this recommendation and would encourage all employers not only to establish networks, but also to invest in them. Doing so will open up opportunities for business and individuals to connect and create fair and inclusive workplaces where everyone has the opportunity to succeed.