Central and North West London NHS Foundation Trust (CNWL) has five staff networks: LGBT+ staff network, BAME Network Group, Carers At Work Network, Lived Experience of Mental Health Staff Network (LEMH) and Disabled Employees Network (DEN+). It also has two staff groups which are less formally-integrated into the organisation: #CNWL Women Network and the FiftyPlus Staff Network. Anne Power (pictured right with colleague Jackie Dunn in the above image) is the coordinator of all seven. As such she’s an expert in networkology and has gained invaluable insight into the systems that work when setting up a network.
‘I don’t run networks. The purpose of my role is support,’ she says. ‘I do this by helping the networks to develop their annual plans and execute them, scheduling their meetings, preparing papers and venues, and planning events such Black History Month, LGBT+ History Month, Carers Week or National Staff Networks Day. I also promote the networks at different events such as staff induction, roadshows and divisional festivals ensuring everyone has the opportunity to join. I provide accessibility support and raise the profile of the staff networks externally. It’s through this work that I found out about PurpleSpace.’
Anne has been the Trust’s full-time paid network coordinator since October 2016. One obvious advantage of a single coordinator is a single point of contact all day every day for anyone who is interested in any network. This also helps promote intersectionality or multiple membership of networks. ‘This is especially true for our DEN+ and LEMH networks,’ Anne says, using herself as an example. ‘Personally, I identify with the DEN+ network as I have two long term diagnoses. I don’t tend tell people about these as they don’t affect my day-to-day activities. I also identify with our LEMH Staff Network having experienced depression when my children were small. I think my colleagues will agree I can experience anxiety too. I was born in England but my family are Irish so I’m part of our BAME Network Group too. I cared for my late mum for many years before she died in 2014. I am also a member of our two new Staff Groups: FiftyPlus – not that I look it! – and our #CNWLWomen Network. I am an ally to our LGBT+ network, the Trust’s longest standing network.’
The DEN+ Staff Network was set up 18 months ago. What has Anne learned from working with all these different networks about setting one up? ‘If you love networking and have a passion for your network you will succeed,’ she says. But a systematic approach also helps. ‘Identify two co-chairs to head up a committee with a variety of skills and expertise. Meet. Discuss exactly why you want a network and what it should do and how it helps meet the Trust’s equality objectives. Survey the organisation’s staff to hear about their needs and see how the proposed network would meet these. Develop terms of reference (we use those of an existing networks as a starting point), reach out to senior management for champions and put together the business case for the organisation to consider. Assuming you’ve done all of these, and your proposal has been endorsed, start planning your launch event!
‘I also help networks with branding. Again it all comes out of discussion. The DEN+ Staff Network was very clear it wanted a round logo to symbolise inclusion.’
It’s a systematic approach that has clearly worked. The Trust’s BAME Network Group which began in 2012 now has over 1,000 members - a seventh of the Trust’s staff.
So what about day-to-day systems? ‘Last year our DEN+ committee met on a monthly basis. We modelled our action plan on the #IDPD Plan. It has four quadrants: plan; celebrate milestones; raise awareness/visibility and develop partnerships. We found it was a good way to keep it simple, accessible and visual. And it enables us to review milestones and realise our successes.’
Partnerships are key to effective systems. ‘The Network has created partnerships with all arms of CNWL: occupational health, HR, communications, the three divisions in the organisation and the trade unions. Our Director of Improvement and Workforce and Chief Operating Officer are the sponsors for all our networks.
‘We work with the Trust on its ambition to be the most inclusive employer by supporting programmes of work such as the Workforce Disability Equality Standard and becoming a Disability Confident employer. It’s about ensuring systems such as procurement, organisational development, finance and communications are disability-friendly and accessible. DEN+ members develop, co-produce and co-deliver bespoke Disability Awareness Training sessions across the Trust. We also want to ensure we continue to attract disabled staff and support them with advice and through such initiatives as our new Workplace Adjustment Passport.’
But even the most systematic approach will occasionally hit a glitch or two. Anne recommends persistence and clarity: ‘People are busy but interested. It is important they know where you are, who you are and what you do. Be clear on your objectives. Even if you feel like you have hit a brick wall, keep going.’
You have to look very hard to find organisations that have a dedicated paid employee responsible for all networks/resource groups. This approach certainly works well for CNWL.
Central and North West London NHS Foundation Trust Fact Box
- Founded 2002
- Type of trust: mental health, community health and specialist services.
- Considered ‘outstanding’ for care by the Care Quality Commission (CQC) at last inspection (February 2016)
- 7,000 staff
- 5 staff networks
- 2 staff groups
- 600 members of the DEN+ and LEMH networks
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