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Organisations should invest more in networks

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Research busts myths such as that participating in a women’s network is detrimental to career progression

Organisations should invest more in the setup, development and delivery of networks, according to research from Women Ahead, supported by PwC and HSBC.

The Networks that Work report explores common myths regarding networks in firms. It found there was limited investment into roles that support and co-ordinate networks, despite their obvious value.

Myths explored include: the idea that participating in a women’s network is detrimental to career progression (which it found is mostly disproven), and that smaller networks perform better than larger ones (which was found to be only partly supported by evidence).

Jane Booth, head of research for Women Ahead, explained that the conclusions were drawn from speaking to employees at 31 organisations. “We wanted to really be able to understand what each case was like,” she said, speaking at the research launch at PwC’s offices in London.

Birgit Neu, global head of diversity and inclusion at HSBC, speaking at the same event, said that networks are extremely important at the bank. “We have tens of thousands of people in our networks,” she explained. “As the numbers of organisational and cross-company networks are ever increasing, it is critical to understand and appreciate how professional diversity networks operate to be able to better support their growth and contribution.”

Jonni Learoyd, HR project leader for Channel 4, said that celebrating difference is part of his company’s culture now, but this was not always supported by strong networks. “We like to embrace our differences at Channel 4,” he said. “Despite this when I started there were no LGBT or women’s networks. They grew organically, and helped to change our culture.”

Nishma Robb, head of ads marketing at Google, discussed the origins of the tech firm's networks. “Our women’s network was set up by Cheryl Sandburg when she realised she was often the only woman in the room during meetings,” she said. “When she spoke to other women in the business she realised they were facing the same challenges as her.”