Staff race networks critical to tackling workplace discrimination

  • Date

    Wed 30 Mar 22

portrait photo Dr Maria Hudson

Senior leaders are the secret to successful staff race networks according to a new report being launched by workplace expert Acas.

The report: Addressing Inequalities: The role of staff race networks, shows that identity-based networks are a vital tool in tackling systemic barriers to recruitment and progression in the workplace if properly managed. Their success depends on a number of factors including senior management support, clarity of purpose, adequate resourcing and staff participation.The research was carried out by researchers at Essex Business School who conducted in-depth studies of race networks across different companies and organisations.

The researchers from Essex Business School used interviews and focus groups to develop case studies to find out why people joined race networks, what they hoped to achieve and what were the key levers in supporting network success in meeting their aims. The researchers identified strategies used by successful networks including:

  • Organising events to raise their visibility
  • Encouraging members to develop their own projects to help maximise network relevance
  • Combatting isolation by helping members to share their experiences
  • Allowing members to speak directly with senior leaders about issues important to them.

Buy-in from leadership, proper resourcing and getting staff fully involved were identified as crucial factors in successful employee networks.

The setting up of staff race networks led to positive changes in the workplace according to the members, including more open conversations taking place at the workplace, signs that senior leaders had bought into tackling racism, perceptions of greater network engagement with non-ethnic minority allies and their feeling empowered to make change.

Dr Maria Hudson, the lead author of the report, said: “As well as the many successes of the networks that we found in our research, we also identified a number of challenges to the achievement of their aims, including resources.

“Staff race networks in British workplaces are pushing for progress on race inequalities and equity. However, network members often feel under-resourced in comparison to the significant time and effort they are making to foster positive approaches to race in their organisations.

“Challenging racism is everyone’s responsibility, and race networks are collaborating with a range of allies, but the support of senior management is crucial for success in making meaningful and sustainable progress on race equity, while working towards a fairer and inclusive workplace.”

Julie Dennis, Head of Diversity and Inclusion, Acas said: “Our report shows that staff race networks can be crucial in providing employees with the support needed to address inequalities at work. Participants that took part in our research revealed that the murder of George Floyd and the Black Lives Matter movement was a catalyst to forming or re-launching these networks.

“The study also reveals that employee networks are a critical tool in making sure voices are heard and help to support the recruitment and development of people who face discrimination. However, they can only be a success if they are properly resourced, staff are fully involved, and they are supported by business leaders.”

The report was launched at the British Academy and attended by race champions, including race network leaders, experts in diversity and inclusion and campaign leaders who discussed the state of play for race equality in the British workplace.