SPOTLIGHT: From peer networks to resource groups

Contributed by
An employee resource group at Chambers
17 Apr 2020

Bringing Employees Together

Staff networks, affinity groups, employee forums, resource groups… there are so many ways to refer to the coming together of employees who feel connected by a similar experience, interest or purpose.

Although often used as synonyms, these terms reflect very different conceptual approaches. The only thing they have in common is that they are formed of employees. Beyond that, they are fundamentally different.

At the risk of oversimplifying what is a very complex and often organic, evolving and fluid construct, one could cluster most employee groups/networks in two categories:

1) Those built to provide a safe space for people to connect, based on a shared experience, and to organise initiatives that cater to a particular group. The term ‘affinity group’ is the one that probably best describes these types of spaces. Their activities predominantly target the members of the group itself and are largely informal and social (e.g. after work drinks).

2) Those designed with the explicitly stated purpose of acting as an awareness raising tool. These groups may still be predominantly formed by employees who share a particular identity or experience, but their aim is less to provide a safe space as such and more to educate the wider organisation. In this sense they are literally ‘resource groups’ as they equip the workplace with an additional tool to develop empathy, understanding and ultimately, inclusion. The activities of resource groups tend to be more educational and structured (e.g. lunch and learn sessions).

Of course, nothing in life or in workplaces is ever this binary. In reality most LGBT+, gender, BAME, disability, carers, wellbeing, faith and many other groups/networks that exist today sit somewhere on the spectrum between being completely ‘inward looking’ (i.e. catering for the members of a particular group) or fully ‘outward focused’ (i.e. geared exclusively to engage with and educate the rest of the organisation).

Black History Month 2019 event, organised by INSPIRE Committee
A photo from our internal Black History Month event, organised by the INSPIRE Committee

Time to reflect

What’s important is that each network/group takes the time to reflect on where they are on this spectrum and ask whether their actions achieve the following:

1) they meet the current needs of the group they are set up to support and represent

2) they are inclusive and allow anyone interested in the topic to engage constructively

3) they are solution-focused and don’t limit themselves to acknowledging issues or problems.

I think the first point is key, particularly where it refers to ‘current needs’. Too many networks, especially the long-standing ones, have not moved from a time when their main function, and rightly so at the time, was to offer a safe space to meet. In most organisations simply providing safety is no longer sufficient: groups need visibility, role models and genuine support from allies, especially in leadership.

To help organisations succeed on their journey to true inclusion, and to build a shared sense of belonging and purpose, groups and networks need to do what every single one of us should: get out of their comfort zone to enter the learning zone where we can educate each other about our differences but also, and perhaps most importantly, about what we have in common.

Chambers INSPIRE Committee

Here at Chambers, we have launched an internal diversity, inclusion and CSR committee called INSPIRE. To form the committee, we asked each member of our senior leadership team to act as an Executive Sponsor for one of the following areas: age and disability, corporate social responsibility, cultural inclusion, environment and sustainability, gender, LGBT+, mental health and wellbeing, parents and carers, and social mobility.

Working with the Executive Sponsors to raise awareness and drive positive action throughout the company are our INSPIRE Chairs and Ambassadors. These positions were filled by people from different departments and levels of seniority, based on applications and interviews. Lead by the Executive Sponsors and Commitee Chairs, each sector has a focus group that helps to raise awareness, plan initiatives and provide feedback from their peers.

We are delighted to have top-down support from senior leadership coupled with a passionate and engaged workforce who are willing to go the extra mile to ensure that Chambers is as inclusive as possible. We will be formally announcing our 2020 INSPIRE Committee members shortly – watch this space.