gsn-google gsn-google

How to set up an LGBT employee resource group or network

Are you wanting to start an LGBTI network group at work but are unsure how to start? Read some advice from people involved with such groups

How to set up an LGBT employee resource group or network
© Djem82 |
Building networks offers support

Convinced of the business case for embracing diversity and inclusion practices, it’s now common for global corporations to have LGBT networks or employee resource groups.

However, for those working in medium to large-sized organizations, such groups remain rarer.

Are you thinking of starting a group? Here are some of the things that you might want to bear in mind:

Think about the reasons an LGBT group could benefit your company

Be prepared to explain to your organization why it needs an LGBT network group.

Prepare yourself with data on how productivity rises when employees are able to be themselves at work, and how staff retention typically increases. Check some of the links at the bottom of this article.

Visibly embracing diversity will also help your company to attract talent, as some LGBT job seekers, and those from other minority groups, now actively seek out those organizations where they know they will be welcome.

‘Focus on developing and delivering initiatives aligned with the wider strategy of your organization,’ suggests Thomas Anderson, the founder of the UK’s Inclusive Networks.

‘This will support with buy in and resourcing your network. Networks aren’t just a HR thing and your resources may come from the marketing and other teams.’

Ford’s GLOBE group has been running since 1994. Its current co-chair, Christopher Makin, says that the group plays a key role in promoting diversity.

‘Our visible presence at key Pride events plus ongoing social activities helps us to attract new members and, crucially, new members of our Board with fresh ideas and enthusiasm … We work closely with the company’s Diversity Office and our corporate Executive Champions to promote an environment where diversity is valued and everyone is empowered to be authentic about themselves in the workplace.’

Plan how the group will run and who will run it

Look at how other resource groups within your company are run – and how much time commitment may be involved in their organization. Make sure other individuals are interested in working with you: the novelty of running a group largely by yourself is likely to quickly wear off!

Think about establishing a board or steering committee – ideally including representatives from HR or, if present, any diversity and inclusion staff.

‘Make sure you have enough interested individuals who can unite behind shared goals and keep the group going,’ says Janice Chavers, Director of HR and Diversity Communications at Eli & Lilly. The pharmaceutical company’s employee resource group (ERG) is known as Lilly PRIDE.

‘Reach out to your company’s diversity office to inquire about the steps that need to be taken – getting permission to form as an official group, establishing a charter, getting a budget from the diversity office.’

‘Enlist the support of passionate and enthusiastic volunteers to help you, but make sure they are equipped with the skills to do what you need them to do, and set clear objectives and expectations from the outset,’ says the UK’s David Atkins, co chair of the Lloyds Banking Group Rainbow network.

Michael Whyte is Co-Executive Sponsor of American Express Pride Network – which was recently awarded the honor of ‘LGBT Network group of the Year’ in Stonewall’s 2015 Workplace Equality Index. He cautions about having realistic expectations: ‘Be realistic, grow slowly and don’t over commit yourself; start with a core group who are highly committed to lay the network foundations.

‘Create a strong structure and organizational support via a steering committee.’

Ensure staff safety

In many parts of the world, protections exist to ensure that LGBT staff cannot be fired purely on the basis of their sexual orientation or gender identity. However, this is not true for everywhere.

In fact, it remains the case that in 28 states of the US, workers can still be sacked because of their sexuality, while in other parts of the world, it remains illegal to be gay.

What is the situation where you are located? Think about how you might protect the data of those involved in any resource group from external abuse, and how you will communicate with members – whether via intranet or private email.

Identify your group’s aims and objectives

Again, in tandem with presenting the business case for establishing an LGBT group, identify the groups aims and objectives.

You might want to provide a safe space for LGBT staff to talk to one another about work issues; establish a mentoring program for staff; offer educational or skills-based training opportunities, or identify causes that the group might wish to support in some capacity.

‘Be inclusive and get involved in a wide range of things. Ensure you raise awareness and celebrate L, G, B and T events, diversity days and initiatives. Diverse visuals, events and support will attract a diverse membership and keep them engaged,’ says Inclusive Network’s Thomas Anderson.

‘What does the group want to accomplish?’ says Eli & Lilly’s Janice Chavers. ‘Of course, there is the social aspect but our employee resource groups are asked to impact the business.’

‘Also, you want to make sure that the ERG stays aligned with the business.’

‘When setting up an employee network, it’s important that you are really clear about the objectives for creating the network and also what you want it to ultimately achieve,’ says Lloyds’ David Atkins.

‘Set clear goals for the first year and ask the question, “what does success look like?”

His advice is echoed by Michael Whyte of American Express.

‘Develop a clear mission statement with specific goals – and ideally, ensure that the network’s goals are embedded into your members’ development plans.’

Secure support from senior management and allies

Not only is securing support from those higher up in your organization vital, but the role that LGBT allies can play in speaking out on behalf of your group is being seen as increasingly important. It also ensures that your group will be taken seriously and can act as a credible voice for its members.

Make sure you consult frequently with all parties involved in the group – from senior management and HR, through to national partners and the wider employee base.

‘Discuss with the diversity office getting an executive sponsor,’ says Eli & Lilly’s Janice Chavers. ‘At Lilly, our top leaders serve as executive sponsors of our ERGs.’

‘Reach out to existing networks, either within your industry or outside,’ says David Atkins of Lloyds. ‘I have found that even competitors are willing to help share best practice and advice, especially when it’s for the greater good of the LGBT community.’

‘Finding and committing an executive champion or sponsor to the ERG creates clear lines of communication between the ERG and the organization’s leadership,’ recommends Human Rights Campaign. ‘Find a sponsor or advocate for the group in a senior leadership position – preferably someone who is personally connected to LGBT issues.’

‘Sometimes the wisest choice is not necessarily a known ally. Getting an open-minded skeptic on board can sometimes have greater long-term benefits.’

Think about how you will monitor the progress of the group and collect feedback

LGBT network groups tend to evolve as membership grows. Ensure that members – and those from the wider company – can offer feedback on the group and help to shape its ongoing aims and objectives. Maintaining engagement is key to maintaining the group’s momentum.

‘Create something that gives value back to the company and the community – this will help you define some key work strands and ensure that everyone’s really engaged,’ says Michael Whyte of American Express.

Finally, consult with organizations that can support you

In the US, the Human Rights Campaign produces a wealth of information on workplace equality. Check out the employee resources section of its website, which carries information on starting an LGBT employee resource group.

In the UK, advocacy group Stonewall offers workplace advice and a range of workplace guides, including information of setting up an LGBT network chapter.

Similar advice is offered by Pride in Diversity in Australia and Community Business in Hong Kong.

Got a news tip? Want to share your story? Email us .