How to Start a Colleague Network (Part 1)
A colleague network is a support group interested in the representation, awareness, and development of a specific group of people/diversity characteristic. This network also helps to improve the policies and ways of working that affect this group within an organisation or business.
People kept asking me ‘Sam how do I start a network?’. This question would result in me arranging a call or a short meeting to fill the enquiring mind in. I would then share my experiences as a Co-Founder/Chair of the Government Digital Service Black, Asian, and Minority Ethnic Network (GDSBAME). In the interest of being a budding blogger to be and being efficient, by working in the open and out loud, I thought I’d write a blog post about my experience of creating a colleague network. Now everyone can feel empowered to take the leap of faith, as I am taking the leap of faith in blogging!
Drum up Interest
The phrase ‘many hands make light work’ is paramount when starting and leading a network. This is because this will be an extra role to your day job, so there will be a limit on your time commitment. Having a team of dedicated people to help you is crucial for the network’s productivity. It will also make the journey more fun!
Speak to a few of your peers and see if they share the same sentiments as you. See if others have the same desire to be part of the cultural change that you envision. In my case, I started the network with a few friends and we decided to be co-founders. We were all very invested in helping our organisation to be more diverse and inclusive.
Your founders will form the leadership team. You will need an enthusiastic working group because once you launch, you will need to make a real impression on your organisation. When creating a working group, it does not have to only consist of people who identify as the network characteristics. Working groups should welcome the idea of incorporating allies. It’s important to find your allies and get them on board! They can be a powerful tool for getting the business on board with any cultural changes that you may want to make.
From my experience, I have learnt that there are a lot of people who are not BAME but are very passionate about the network’s priorities. Even so, they don’t feel like they can get involved. The most powerful networks are those that help the organisation to understand that this (in my instance, cultural diversity and inclusion) is not an issue for BAME colleagues to deal with. All employees should be invested in cultural diversity and inclusion. It should be embedded in the ways of working and considered when creating products and services. This cultural attitude makes for the best working environments and helps organisations deliver and serve their users. There’s evidence to support the notion that diverse teams outperform non-diverse teams. This is always a key point to promote when advocating for change.
Another group of people to engage with before launching the network are your senior leaders. Senior sponsorship is fundamental. Senior buy-in helps employees to know that the organisation supports the network. If there are policies that need to change or be implemented, having a senior sponsor/champion is imperative. It’s worth finding a few of them to have some conversations within the early stages.
Start off with a Bang
Organise a launch event! Aim to serve your organisation by finding out what your colleagues would like the network to do. You could make your launch event a retro, and ask key questions and get people to feedback on post its. Questions like ‘What would you like the network to do?’, What type of events should we hold?’, ‘What are the challenges you face as a BAME member of staff?’, ‘What’s currently working well within the company that you would like to see more of?’. This event can also be a good opportunity to find new allies, working group members, and network members (your users). Always have something in place for people to sign up/register their interest at your launch. Once you have a list of volunteers you can set up a mailing list, but don’t forget to ensure that you are compliant with the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR).
These first steps will definitely help you to kick-start your network, build awareness and drum up support. This should also help you to build your team and key stakeholders. If you’ve ever had reservations about starting a colleague network, been needing some advice, or you’re waiting for the right time, the right time is ‘NOW’!