Insight

How to build a rainbow coalition

30 August 2017 | By Esther McDermott

A network of LGBT staff and supporters can lead to happier staff and better productivity. Esther McDermott of law firm Dentons talks through the setup process.

Esther McDermott

Dentons’ LGBT network, GLOW, was set up in 2015 to encourage its LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender) staff and allies alike to promote and encourage understanding of LGBT issues. It has since gone from strength to strength, securing Dentons a move in the Stonewall Workplace Equality Index from 327th in 2015 to 17th in 2017.

GLOW was also ranked Highly Commended Network Group by Stonewall this year. Here are a few things we’ve learnt along the way. 

Senior support

Gaining senior support for your LGBT network is key. For GLOW, having the strong and visible support of the senior leaders at the firm has been invaluable. Luckily, attracting senior support or sponsorship should be fairly simple these days.

People are more productive at work when they feel able to be their authentic selves. It is also easier to retain talent when people feel comfortable at work. When pitching and tendering for work, an active LGBT network can assist to secure work. At a senior level, this ought to be a no-brainer (and it usually is). 

Allies

Not everyone agrees that allies (those who do not identify as LGB or T but support its aims) have a place in workplace LGBT networks. But allies are an important aspect of GLOW. 

With no vested interest, allies are uniquely placed to successfully advocate for LGBT rights.

They are also more likely to hear and see (and therefore best placed to challenge) homophobic, biphobic and/or transphobic remarks/behaviour in the office.

Put simply, those of us in the minority rely on the majority to help spread our message – but also to gain the critical mass needed to host successful events and get the conversation started. For me, the more inclusive the network group, the better.

Aims and objectives

At the outset, think about what you want your network to achieve and how you might get there. Put together a short-term and long-term plan, which you can use to measure progress. 

For example, do you first need to educate others as to why the network is needed? Do you want to increase the visibility of LGBT staff and encourage a greater understanding among non-LGBT colleagues on matters relating to sexual orientation and gender identity?

Do you want to act as an advisor to management on LGBT-related issues? Do you want to promote LGBT rights and issues in the wider community?

Communications

Get communications about your network and its events out to as many people in your organisation as possible. Mailing lists (whether open or hidden) are great for those who are office based, but think about people out on site or without regular email access. 

Reach out to other networks and organisations

Cross-business LGBT networks exist for most industries and many regions. In construction/engineering, Off Site and #BuildingEquality are just two. This is a great way to make contacts and to share ideas and best practice.

Many organisations also have their own internal LGBT network and will be give you guidance. Collaborative events can encourage more of your own staff to get involved – networking opportunities are a great draw.

Overall, setting up a network is hard work but rewarding. There is lots more to think about – like choosing the perfect name and logo! The main ingredient, though, is plenty of dedication and a handful of supportive colleagues.

Esther McDermott is a senior associate in the construction disputes team at Dentons and co-chair of GLOW. She was named as one of the top 10 LGBT+ Corporate Rising Stars at the British LGBT Awards 2017 in May.

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