Employee networks

Can employee networks help build an inclusive culture in your business?

Jane Hulme, HR Director, Unum UK

Inclusive workplace culture enables a diverse workforce to thrive by facilitating a place where everyone can bring their whole selves to work, feel comfortable and confident and have an authentic sense of belonging and collaboration. In turn, these valued employees feel appreciated, trusted and empowered, which are critical elements of engagement and wellbeing.

One such way you can help foster an inclusive culture in your business is through Employee Network Groups. Also known as Employee Resource Groups, these are a group of people who wish to represent and advocate for minoritized parts of the workforce on a voluntary basis. 

Setting up Employee Networks can also create a community for employees to support each other, feel a sense of similarity and belonging, and can also play a critical role in advising decision makers in the company on inclusion & diversity (I&D) strategy and issues. Working collaboratively with HR and I&D departments, Employee Networks can greatly contribute to increase understanding of equity issues amongst employees, share information and frame future business behaviours.

To this end, the important contribution Employee Networks make to an organisation’s culture and strategy must not go unrecognised. Networks and all their members, leaders and supporters should feel that they are valued and rewarded for the positive change they are installing within the business. So ensure network achievements are also recognised as part of individuals’ appraisal process, objectives and KPIs. There is a powerful link between recognition and engagement, productivity and performance,1 so recognition for network achievements will make employees feel even more valued, appreciated and part of a caring and connected community.

At Unum, our Employee Networks play a key role in encouraging and supporting all employees to bring their whole selves to work whilst helping to facilitate employee engagement and meaningful dialogue about diversity and inclusion at work. All areas of the business have an Inclusion Business Champion, a member of the leadership community, who stays in the loop with network projects and amplifies the voices of those within. Support from senior leadership and a wider range of voices can help ease the pressure for network members and share responsibilities for spreading the word beyond the group, and we offer volunteering time each month to enable them to do this. 

We have five networks currently:

  • enABLE - whose goal is to enABLE the organisation to be more inclusive of people with disabilities. This includes running sessions to educate on disabilities and health conditions - the most recent one allowed employees to trial different activities that stimulated a range of disabilities. As a Disability Confident Leader we take a positive attitude towards the employment of people with disabilities and long-term health conditions. 
  • upLIFT - whose goal is to upLIFT all genders to build community, network, and share their experiences with the company. With a focus on men’s mental health and menopause during 2023, as well as a series of “a day in the life of” articles, sharing different lived experiences, upLIFT is encouraging discussion on taboo subjects, to increase understanding.
  • bePROUD - whose goal is to assist members of the LGBTQ+ community to bePROUD of their sexual orientation and gender identity and educate others on the use of inclusive language and pronouns. They also host a book club focusing on stories with LGBTQ+ characters/themes and energise all of Unum to take part in Surrey Pride where Unum is the official accessibility sponsor — ensuring the parade and park is fully accessible to all.
  • UNITEd - whose goal is to UNITE employees of all cultures, ethnicities and races.  From a sharing a wide range of articles during Black History month, to inviting others to understand and celebrate Diwali with them, they support Unum in keeping our BITC Race Equality Charter commitments.
  • weSERVE - whose goal is to support us in attracting, recruiting and retaining our veteran employees. weSERVE also identify opportunities for community engagement, including managing Unum UK’s longstanding partnership with Combat Stress, the leading UK charity for Veteran mental health. This enables us to also support veterans beyond those we are privileged to employ at Unum.

At Unum, we encourage a culture of sharing powerful employee stories that help enable our colleagues to understand and comprehend experiences and journeys of others. This then champions the way for more people to feel confident to be open and honest and bring their whole selves to work.

When up and running, a successful employee network can have lots of benefits to both a business and its employees and goes a long way to creating an inclusive and diverse environment.

1 https://www.forbes.com/sites/carolinecastrillon/2022/11/20/why-employee-recognition-is-more-crucial-than-ever/