For the CBI’s Women’s Network, International Women’s Day is the centre point in our calendar year. It is a moment in time when we, as Co-Chairs of the network, rally our colleagues, friends and families around one universal subject: gender equality.
Of course, this topic is not something which should be raised on one day or one week a year. Equality, diversity and inclusion, should be embedded in everything we do, every day. From our working lives to our personal lives, we should champion those who have taken action to ensure equal opportunities for any and everyone. At the CBI, ensuring everyone has equal opportunity, regardless of their gender identity, is one of our key objectives.
But what is the CBI’s Women’s Network, why do we exist and what do we aim to achieve day-to-day? International Women’s Day provides the opportune moment to reflect on these questions and demonstrate why all our Networks are important. Not just to champion individuals and call for change, but to empower employees and help to create an environment where everyone can be themselves.
Who are we?
The CBI’s Women’s Network is the longest-running employee network at the CBI. Originally set up in 2014 to offer female employees an opportunity to meet and discuss their experiences, the Network provided a safe space for employees and opportunities to network and enjoy events.
Now, in 2020, the Network continues to uphold its original purpose – hosting meetings every six weeks to discuss various gender-related topics and collaborating with charities linked to gender equality and female issues. But its purpose has also grown. With internal support, our focus includes wider internal change and provides a space for open communication between CBI employees and different CBI departments, including HR and our Exco team. The network monitors internal progress on the Gender Pay Gap and engages with the CBI’s other employee Networks. As we progress throughout 2020, we will also be taking up external engagement opportunities and we are excited to be joining forces with gender-related employee Networks in our member organisations and at sector level.
Why do we exist?
The Network exists as a reminder that whilst substantial progress has been made to reduce the divide between genders, progress must still be made to ensure wider inclusion and equality between all types of people and gender, across the workplace.
The CBI’s Women’s Network wants to provide a platform for the sharing of good practice and to hear advice from strong, female business leaders, who have experienced hardships and success in their careers and champion those who have stood up for gender equality, helping to inspire and support colleagues. We strive for policy change to improve our day to day experiences as employees of the UK’s largest business representative body. We aim to provide a platform for CBI employees to raise individual challenges and promote success where we see it.
So why are employee networks important and how can they succeed?
On average, we spend a total of 13 years and two months of our lives at work. This often rises when overtime is factored in. In reality, we spend nearly a quarter of our life working. In the UK, worryingly, we will have nearly three months off sick across the entirety of our working lives which includes time off for depression and low morale. This is why a balance must be found between your ‘day job’ (what you get paid to do) and your ‘daily job’ (working long hours, commuting, office politics, Diversity and Inclusion related issues).
Making your employees feel included at work can directly enhance performance and happiness in the workplace. Recent research demonstrates that diverse teams can solve problems faster, increase their ability to innovate by up to 83%, and can make decisions 60% faster than non-diverse teams. The power of inclusion cannot be understated, and it is the role of employee Networks to harness that power and use it for good. Networks provide a safe space for employees to have real, honest conversations on work-life experience, highlighting both areas for improvement and areas of success. They are essential to enhancing a culture of inclusivity and ensuring people feel able to bring their whole selves to work. Ensuring you get the very best from employees.
Employee networks have the capacity to forge real change both from an internal policy perspective and from an outward inclusion perspective. Consistent messaging and bottom-up campaigning within organisations can bring forward positive outcomes. For example, over the last 12 months, the CBI’s Women’s Network has successfully campaigned for greater transparency and communication around the CBI’s gender pay gap, the data of which is now accessible to all CBI employees, month by month via our online tracker.
In addition, the CBI’s LGBT+ Allies reception at the CBI’s Annual Conference celebrated inclusion and raised awareness of barriers to diversity in the workplace, featuring inspiring speakers from the community.
The CBI’s BAME Network has also collaborated with the British Cultural Archives and other residents within the CBI office for Black History Month 2019, to showcase a timeline detailing key moments across the 20th and 21st century, raising awareness and celebrating black history in the UK.
So how can you empower your Employee Network? The HICS method
- Hold regular meetings and consultation with Network members. Invite representatives from your HR department or feedback (with permission) network members concerns/insights to HR and senior representatives from your organisation.
- Include everyone and keep an open mindset. Employee networks are usually for one subsection of employees, but in order to achieve wider, embedded change, engaging anyone who is interested in the subject matter will help to make wider systems change in what you do.
- Create a clear purpose which becomes embedded within the organisation. Start small, then grow – tiny leaps, big impact. Don’t aim to achieve great change on day one – start with smaller wins – such as sanitary products in the toilets – then get bigger – gender pay gap transparency, external events and speaker advice.
- Senior buy-in from day one is vital. It’s important to have a board-level representative to champion the importance of the Networks and make them a central feature of your Diversity and Inclusion strategy.