- I want to establish a network for lesbians and gays in our company; what are the first steps?
If you are the only potential member so far, it is important that you find other people who share your interest in setting up a support network. It would be helpful to find colleagues (at least 4 or 5) who are ready to get involved. Not everybody in the network needs to have come out, because even by simply working in the background, group members can provide a lot of support. But it would be beneficial to the group if there were one or two people who are out and who are ready to speak out about the issue.
At the beginning, the most important things are to find other people who want to get involved, to build trust within the group and to develop ideas about how your network can be of benefit to the company. This can not only be as simple as providing a “safe haven” where other LGBTIQ employees can find support, but your network can also be a valuable resource at recruitment fairs, for example, and even in developing new products.
It also makes sense to look for allies with whom you can discuss issues candidly. In some companies, you may find trustworthy managers or personnel supervisors, in other companies the works council or trade union representative is a good starting point.
When organising your first meeting, it’s best to choose a location outside the company. Potential members will find it easier to come along, particularly those who have not come out at work.
- How do we get our LGBTIQ network officially recognised by the company?
It would be ideal if your company already has a Diversity Management policy in place, and if there is someone who is primarily concerned with diversity in the workforce. Although women, older people or people from different cultural backgrounds may currently be the focus of attention, Diversity Management systems make things easier when you’re starting a new group. If you know someone in the Diversity department or top management who is open to lesbian or gay issues, that is all the better.
In many companies there are guidelines that define the conditions for employee networks to be recognised. Usually the following is necessary:
- A small group of people who want to drive the network (4–5 people)
- The business case: why it makes sense for your company to support the issue
- A clear idea of how you would like to work with the Diversity department
- A (planned) structure and statutes.
- Where can we get further support and and share information?
Through PROUT AT WORK, you can contact other networks, for example, from the same industry, in the same area or the same company size.
PROUT AT WORK also supports you at during the initial contact stages with your company. We link your Diversity Management with other Diversity Managers.
- We know only gay men in our company. Why establish an LGBT or even LGBTIQ network?
At the start, it’s often difficult to find a broad range of other like-minded people. From our point of view, however, it makes sense that from the very beginning, you are open to all others: lesbians, bisexuals, trans* and inter* people. You get more recognition when you are “inclusive” and the company does not then have to negotiate with five or ten other specialised groups. Opening up your network later to others becomes more difficult to “sell” to the existing membership. And last but not least, being open to the entire LGBTIQ community will let you experience how much more fun it is to be part of a diverse, colourful group.
- What are some pitfalls that we should avoid?
Based on our experience, here are a few important “don’ts”:
- Don’t make any public statements without having previously discussed with your company’s Diversity Management and Public Relations departments.
- Don’t position your network as a lobby group; instead, define yourselves as a think tank on sexual orientation, gender identity and diversity in the company.
- Don’t try to reinvent the wheel. Learn from other networks in your company that have already solved the same problems. And remember you can also rely on the knowledge of other LGBTIQ staff networks.
- Don’t expect that everyone in the company has been just waiting for a network like yours to appear. Instead, be proactive: present your ideas and solutions using your own initiative. For the Diversity department, it’s easier to publish an article that was written by someone else than to write one from scratch.
- Internal or external visibility: where should we start?
Both have advantages. Some successful networks communicate within the company only, and do not appear at public events. Their goal: to establish themselves in the company so firmly that they can promote the network publicly with full support from the company in the future.
Other networks are very active and open to appearing at external events after they had obtained the support of the company. This generates a great deal of visibility, which in turn motivates lots of activity within the network. It also allows you to reach colleagues who have not come out at work. External communication can take place via the following channels:
- Participation at LGBTIQ marches, festivals and events
- Participation in relevant conferences and workshops
- Interviews in LGBTIQ newspapers and websites, or the business press
- Sponsoring LGBTIQ events (such as the PROUT AT WORK Conferences).
No matter what path you choose, our experience shows that it is important to first position your network internally and establish yourself within the company before you make public appearances. This wins you faster recognition and more allies in the company’s workforce and the management. It is, however, important to quickly and regularly communicate your network’s objectives and activities throughout the company. Other internal activities might include:
- Articles in the employee magazine
- A page on the intranet
- A separate group in the company’s “Facebook”
- Organise special events (lectures, workshops) alone or with other internal diversity networks.
Do you have other questions you’d like answered? Then just send us an email or call us! We’re happy to help.