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Affinity group employee networks play a major part in helping organisations build an inclusive culture

Last month I wrote about the diagnostic power of carrying out diversity organisation assessments. A thorough diagnostic of this kind is vital in understanding the barriers to inclusion that exist in your present culture and working environment. This month I look at how setting up affinity group employee networks are necessary because creating an inclusive culture involves changing the existing culture.

I was interviewing the European head of a leading global bank and he told me how proud he was of the progress they had made in increasing the representation of women at managing director level and above.

He attributed this to having set up a women's network. This followed from a diversity organisation assessment they had carried out in 2001, and which I was involved with. This assessment showed that women in the bank found the culture macho, and that many of them did not consider it to be an organisation in which they wanted to have a long-term career.

One of the recommendations from the assessment in 2001 was that they should have employee networks for women, ethnic minorities, gays and lesbians. The executive director I interviewed was adamant that the resulting women's network had played a big part in educating his colleagues and himself about the changes that would be needed if the bank was to become an employer of choice for high-potential women.

In particular, it had helped the executive accept that women with young families or carer responsibilities (for elderly parents, etc) were prepared to put in the long hours that the work demanded, but they had to be able to make full use of the bank's flexible working policies.

I was reminded that in 2001 one of his colleagues told me that their work required its senior employees to work 14 hours a day – and that meant 14 hours in the office, not 10 hours working in the office and 4 hours working at home. How things had changed since then!

The women's network had persuaded the executive to set up a demonstration project in a business unit that had a director who was a champion of diversity for women. He set up a project team tasked with determining what was needed for his business unit to optimise the bank's flexible policies and maintain their high quality services to customers and clients.

They invested in technology to make teleworking at any time and in any place a reality. The results of the project demonstrated conclusively that employees who needed to work flexibly to meet family or other personal commitments could do so without any detrimental impact on their performance. The lessons learned from the demonstration project were then shared across the bank. As a result, more women are making use of flexible working and their retention rate is improving. This means that the firm has a bigger pool of high-potential candidates to promote into its senior management cadre.

Affinity group employee networks are necessary because creating an inclusive culture for all involves changing the existing culture. This requires employees in the main affinity groups to educate management about the barriers to inclusion that exist for them, and to help formulate plans to overcome them.


Related articles:

·      Getting quick wins from diversity and inclusion (part 1)

·      Getting quick wins from diversity and inclusion (part 2)

·      Building an inclusive culture - putting in the effort

·      The diversity and inclusion change drivers and why they are vital

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