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Advancing equality and diversity in universities and colleges


Staff networks

Staff networks can be a powerful tool for empowering minoritized groups, supporting staff to progress and help consultation.

A minoritized group is a group of individuals who are known to have been discriminated against on the basis of a shared characteristic(s). They may not be a minority in terms of numbers. For example, women are a minoritized group, despite comprising over half the population of the UK.

Institutional support

Staff networks may not work in every workplace and/or for all minoritized groups, and their viability and success will depend on the culture and demand within individual institutions.

Networks need to be led by the staff groups that they represent. However, there is a role for institutions to facilitate and support the development of networks:

  • Involve staff and discuss the need for staff networks. This could be linked to specific times of year to maximise impact, for example discussing the possibility of a women’s network on international women’s day. A specific event gives the opportunity to discuss whether it is viable and to look for volunteers to take the network forward.
  • Provide a budget. From refreshment for meetings, to organising specific events or training and development, a budget of any size helps to ensure the network is sustainable and effective.
  • Ensure senior management are open to dialogue. Networks can provide a useful perspective on institutional practice. Consultation should be genuine and views of the network taken seriously.
  • Publicise networks to all staff. A dedicated area on your website/intranet means that all staff are aware of support and opportunities. Promote the networks during staff inductions to maximise membership and ensure all staff are able to benefit.
  • Create a culture of acceptance for participation. It can be intimidating to join a network and there can be a perception that members of networks are ‘troublemakers’. Ensure line managers encourage staff to attend meetings in work hours. Senior management engagement can help to legitimise the group, and positive endorsement can underline that taking part is worthwhile.

Aims and objectives

Staff networks can have a variety of aims; two of the most common objectives are:

Sharing experiences and providing advice and support in a confidential, safe space >

Often a staff network is the opportunity staff members have to discuss the challenges they have faced at work.

To meet this aim, it is likely that membership will be limited to people with the particular shared characteristic.

You will need to carefully consider how, when and where the group will meet, and how to get a balance between giving an opportunity to share personal experiences while retaining momentum and developing positive solutions.

 

Working collectively towards improving institutional policies and practices and implementing change >

Networks with this aim can be useful for their members and their institution.

They can:

  • raise concerns from members
  • act as a consultation group for policies and practice
  • helping to generate ideas and solutions

However, to be successful and to maintain momentum, the institution has to listen to the network and genuinely involve them in decision making and policy review.

Terms of reference

Networks can have a variety of terms of reference, depending on their aims and context. These may also develop over time as the group evolves. The language used in describing and naming networks can also be crucial in their success and who joins.