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Championing Staff Networks – Why Networking Counts?

by Rob Drury | Sep 6, 2023 | People & Culture

How to support and champion your staff networks

Staff Networks, or Employee Resource Groups (ERGs) have been around for a long time, across many sectors including higher education (HE).

Their premise is, in theory, simple: to bring together members of an organisation around a shared experience or interest. Networks often arise organically, as different groups of staff feel the need for, or look for, a space for themselves in the wider organisation.

There are networks for a wide range of groups, including parents and carers, women, LGBTQIA+ staff, staff of colour, staff with disabilities, or staff experiencing menopause. The basis for networks is varied and vibrant and will be different at every institution.

But it can often be the case that staff networks feel clunky in HE. Is the network a space that purely creates a social environment, or does it advocate for a specific group and have a say in institutional governance and decision making? Is it institutionally sponsored and supported, or is it independent?

Without the right approach, staff networks can flounder and feel overlooked. We’ve collated some tips on how to fully support and champion your staff networks here.

Be clear on the purpose

Even when a staff network aims to just be casual and informal in its activity, its purpose and relation to the university should still be formalised. Consider producing a terms of reference document for every staff network, co-created by the network leads and a senior leader. Identify the network’s purpose, who is eligible to be a member, how it will self-govern, and any support the institution will provide.

Consider budget and resource

There is no national guidance or expectation for universities to provide budget to their staff networks, and the decision not to provide a budget may be entirely justifiable. However, strongly consider the case for providing some means of resource to a network. Even a small financial budget per year could mean refreshments at meetings, subsidised activities, guest speakers, or needs-led training. The resource allocated to networks could be non-cash value too; could the network leads have time allocated per month to their role? Could a central support team provide administrative support for booking meetings and taking minutes if required? Could leads be paired with a member of the Executive team as a sponsor and mentor in the role?

Consider the structure

If you went to university, it’s likely you joined a club or society, and maybe even joined a committee or two in your time. While they’re very different entities, there can be similarities. Will the network be led by one person alone, or will a deputy support too? Will there be wider roles needed, such as communications, membership, and activities? How will leaders and committee positions be appointed to?

Consider the network’s relationship with overall governance

Think about how the network may feed into institutional governance. It’s a great idea for staff networks to be dual purpose – to provide protected social environments for people around shared experiences or characteristics, and also to provide these groups with protected mechanisms for contributing to how the institution functions. Perhaps network leads could have an automatic seat at EDI or People Committees, or have a method for representing their network at Council?

While there can be a lot to factor in, it’s vital to lay down foundations and actively consider support for staff networks. It’s often said that a university’s staff are its most important asset. So, investing in staff communities is a strong step in ensuring a healthy, engaged workforce.

Halpin works with universities across four key areas, if you are seeking expert consultancy contact us to find out how we can help.