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More research needed on LGBT networks, say researchers

Posted on 7 February 2017

Very little is known about the operations and benefits of Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender (LGBT) employee networks, say experts at the University of York, as they launch a new study to explore their meaning within the NHS.

Researchers argue that it is time to rethink how these networks are understood by organisations and its members. The new study will work with LGBT networks in nine NHS Trusts across England, Scotland and Wales. 

The study, supported by funding from the Economic and Social Research Council, is in partnership with NHS Employers; the LGBT rights charity, Stonewall; Employers Network for Equality and Inclusion; and includes York collaborators, Professor Karen Mumford and Professor Yvonne Birks. 

The main function of LGBT employee networks is to increase visibility of gender and sexual minorities in the workplace and to build communities that help create supportive environments. There is very little research, however, that shows how these networks operate; what membership means on a personal and professional level; and what barriers the network faces to realising their vision. 

Evidence needed

Dr Anna Einarsdottir, from the University of York’s Management School, said: “We assume that LGBT networks provide benefits to both individuals and the employer, but this will be the first time that we can actually go about evidencing this assumption.

“There is a general consensus that the visibility of the issues that the LGBT community faces have increased since the creation of the networks, but we don’t actually have the research that shows us in what ways this has improved and what it actually means to individuals.

“Have we reached a point where some voices are heard, but not others?  Are the experiences of the individual the same or different to the experience of the network as a whole?  These are just a couple of the questions that we want to address.” 

The team will also investigate if all members are fully engaged with the activity of the networks or if they use the network only at particular times in their working life.  

Employment initiatives

Researchers will ask how networks might grow and act as drivers to build more inclusive working environments with the NHS, as well as how the networks integrate with wider employment initiatives run by other support groups and professional services teams, such as human resources.

Pete Mercer, Client Group Manager at Stonewall: “We are really pleased to be working with the University and NHS Employers on this project.  The NHS is one of the biggest employers in the UK and is home to employees that face many daily challenges and big responsibilities. 

“By increasing our understanding of LGBT networks we can potentially share best practice across other working environments and create new initiatives that enhance support for employees across an organisation.”

Future direction

Other partners in the study include a theatre production team, who will deliver arts based research amongst LGBT employee networks in and outside of the NHS.

Paul Deemer, Head of Diversity and Inclusion at NHS Employers, said: “With a workforce of 1.4 million, it is important that the NHS has access to the latest insights from LGBT staff that can allow us to build a better understanding of the needs of our staff as part of our work on both staff engagement and creating an environment of inclusivity.

“We know that LGBT networks have given a voice to many individuals, but we also need to know how we can best work with these groups, and others, to ensure that these networks continue to play a key role in supporting staff and at the same time helping to shape the future direction of NHS organisations moving forward.”

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