On average, we spend a total of 10 years of our lives at work (a whole decade!)
In order to maintain happiness and drive productivity for this decade-long voyage, employees from diverse backgrounds need to feel seen and heard in their place of work. A black employee network (BEN) is an internal community space to do just that and creates and opportunity for black colleagues and allies to rally around one central subject: racial equality.
Networks are important as all workspaces should have a space where Black voices can be elevated. Forbes 2021 research highlights that companies are 33% more likely to experience higher profitability with greater cultural diversity in teams. This is further echoed by Tiffany Fraser, Executive Business Assistant and BEN member at FARFETCH, who notes that “a Black employee network can give people a ‘sense’ of being an individual, not just an employee”. This notion of being able to bring your true self to work and truly connect with others is invaluable.
1 - Okay so let's start one... What's your strategy?
Starting or having a BEN is a great idea and needs an even better strategy. To launch and sustain a successful BEN you must have a clear mission statement; a shared vision that is understood within the group and can be communicated wider at all levels. Are you trying to increase representation via the recruitment process in FY22/23? Are you more interested in social events to mark events in the cultural calendar? Or perhaps both, in due time? Having a solid strategy will prepare you for the rounds of justification of your business case and confirmation of an agreed budget.
2 - Who are your sponsors/advocates?
Once you have your mission statement, you must communicate this to leaders in the company who can advocate for your cause and offer crucial advice. Tiffany reminds us that “an executive sponsor is a senior member of the company that can shape and form the business from the top down, and therefore give the network unrivalled exposure.” At FARFETCH, the CFO is the Executive sponsor of the BEN providing a broad network to get the forum heard and seen in the right places.
3 - What is your group structure?
As the saying goes: If you fail to plan, you plan to fail! Create a basic structure of regular meetings and written forums such as email spaces to communicate any updates with the team. The bittersweet reality of the network is that it must be run alongside work commitments. Therefore, you need a designated leader who can guide a team of committed and organised individuals to manage their priorities. Leadership comes in many forms and everyone will bring different strengths. Assigning sub-leaders to create agendas and manage internal/external communications will be crucial to the success of the network (almost there).
4 - What intenal activities will be your focus?
Cross-functional working is crucial, particularly in a technology or fashion company, and people from all over the business can meet and form bonds of community. Panel events can create a platform to show the opportunities for career progression and internal success. Outlined in your mission statement, you may wish to circulate diversity reports and comment on the progress of the company in line with agreed parameters. The BEN at FARFETCH brought the vibrancy of the summer bank holiday to the London offices by hosting a party to celebrate the history of Carnival. This blend of education and enjoyment is a brilliant example of equality in action.
5 - How will you engage with external personnel and organisations?
When building a community in the workplace, it is equally important to engage outside of the office. Shamick Edmond, Private Client Stylist at FARFETCH, feels that BEN is also a way to voice opinions within the fashion industry. This is a great perspective and to ensure you’re not in your own bubble, it can be very helpful to bring in external consultants to help steer the vision and make sure it translates effectively. This is simple because; Black issues are societal issues, and external parties will be able to offer support and expertise to the network. Increasing external engagement through organic partnerships with organisations such as Colorintech showing employees that the business cares about being involved in employee-led initiatives as well as the bottom line.
Industry-leaders like FARFETCH really have this as a focus and if you’d like to find out more about their initiatives and working opportunities click here.