We conducted a Q&A interview with Cherron Inko-Tariah MBE, Founder of 'The Power of Staff Networks' and Consultant, regarding staff networks and diversity and inclusion.
Could you introduce yourself and what you do?
I am Cherron Inko-Tariah and I’m the author of The Incredible Power of Staff Networks and the owner of the Power of Staff Networks. I am also the Chair of the National Day for Staff Networks Campaign. I work with employee networks to help them find their authentic voice and to be a powerful agent of change in their organisation.
How important is culture in the long-term for the future of organisations?
Tony Hsieh, CEO Zappos says that to make customers happy, we have to make sure our employees are happy first. Other CEOs of successful organisations have made similar statements. They understand that culture is shaped by people (or rather their behaviour). A successful company requires a healthy corporate environment that is fuelled by an inclusive culture which pushes respect and dignity at work, encourages innovation, breeds creativity, celebrates new ideas (even if they aren’t successful) and invests in talent. Talent is a multiplier and the right culture is a stimulant.
Diversity and Inclusion is a growing discussion topic within organisations, but still isn’t creating enough traction. How important is it for the future of work, that organisations get this right now, instead of changing it later?
If organisations want to remain successful and productive both now and, in the future, then they must be prepared to D.I.G.:
Drive diversity using data;
Intentional about Inclusion;
Diversity is about people; inclusion is about systems and processes. When organisations are determined to use data (or evidence) to create a more diverse workforce, and are intentional about inclusivity, they will become an attractive prospect globally to potential recruits and customers alike. A more diverse organisation is a more productive and innovative one. It’s not difficult and there are many ways in which organisations can take this forward. The world is changing; the BRICS countries and other emerging economies mean that who we trade with and how we trade will also change and organisations must be sufficiently flexible to remain competitive. Networks can play a crucial role in helping the organisation enhance its cultural intelligence and DIG effectively.
What is the purpose of Staff Networks?
The purpose of networks is to really create equitable opportunities for all staff. They aren’t promoting segregation on the quiet; instead, they provide support and encouragement. If we think about what it’s like to be on the receiving end of inequality and discrimination, and handling all the challenges associated with it, can leave one feeling demotivated, stressed, frustrated, tired and isolated. Working in an inclusive environment should be a given - 'just accept me for who I am. Let me have the tools I need to do my job, and the opportunities to reach my potential'. However, the reality of diversity and inclusion is that it's not as straightforward as it should be. An organisation could be deemed diverse but their practices and culture aren’t inclusive. People have to work at it and choose to do it on purpose. The majority may have a cognitive understanding but translating that into a habitual practice towards the minority is perhaps something they struggle with.
The organisation's rhetoric about diversity and inclusion doesn't always play out in reality for everyone. Some employees still choose to hold back certain information e.g. a non-visible disability, for fear of stigma or how they will be perceived and subsequently treated. So something has to change.
Staff networks can help the organisation understand that the culture, system, behaviour, bias etc favours a certain type of employee (white, male, heterosexual, middle class). Those in a minority group have to navigate a number of barriers and hurdles as they endeavour to progress. Networks help the business understand the impact of some of their decisions and provide the ‘ground truth’ with the aim of improving outcomes.
What are the benefits of a change of attitude towards Staff Networks within organisations?
Many organisations fail to view networks as business critical. Instead, they have a perception about staff networks as either moaning shops, a box to be ticked, or a poor substitute for a trade union operating on the periphery of the organisation. However, if we think about the composition of a staff network – first and foremost, they are employees that understand the organisation, and its customers/clients/patients etc. They are passionate about creating a ‘cover free’ and inclusive workspace where people can be their authentic selves. A change in attitude towards networks can yield a number of successes for the organisation. Start to see them as a pipeline of talent generating inclusive leaders, a vehicle of engagement working with the organisation as ‘internal consultants’, a credible voice (smoke alarm), recruitment and progression tool, and a gateway to productivity.
Do Staff Networks face many obstacles within organisations?
Networks face obstacles on many levels.
- Some staff networks are seen as a box to be ticked and are therefore given insufficient support and investment.
- Leaders are appointed without any consideration of their capability or capacity to deliver.
- A culture of fear means that people simply avoid talking about how best to support staff with different inclusion needs.
- Senior management may be vocally committed but fail to ensure that this commitment flows throughout the management chain.
- Lack of belief that a problem exists and ‘those groups’ are just moaning or sensitive.
- It is absolutely crucial that a network understands its purpose and is clear about how the organisation would look and feel like as a result of their intervention. Without a firm foundation, networks will crumble at the first sign of adversity.
- A confident and capable leadership needs to be equipped to lead the network effectively. In my book, The Incredible Power of Staff Networks, I mention the maladies that afflict a network.
Difference does not mean deficient. Staff networks, because of their experience and perspective can open the 'eyes' of the organisation. Articulating the challenges faced by members, crafting a new narrative about their group and showcasing their innovative solutions can all help to influence and change the culture.
What was the encouragement behind your book “The Incredible Power of Staff Networks”
To help staff networks understand their power and be as influential as possible. I have experienced what happens when staff network gives itself permission to be a real agent for change. However, despite both the moral and legal case for diversity and inclusion, change is uncomfortable. But great progress comes from great discomfort and successful staff networks can go a long way in easing some of that discomfort by creating space to have some of those delicate discussions and progress the agenda.
They can also be a lifeline for many. A sanctuary for staff to share about their challenge and gain access to information that will equip them with tools to hold crucial conversationsTM with their managers or other staff. Knowing that there are others in the organisation who can relate to your experience, are looking out for you, and help you take charge of your career through networking opportunities and connections, can make a huge difference to the work experience. I have watched people blossom from the support, leadership and the empowerment that a staff network can provide. I have also witness networks that start with the greatest intention and drift into the sea of aimlessness. I wanted to write a book that addressed all of these things in a practical way.
Where do you see the future of Staff Networks going?
I think more and more organisations will begin to understand the powerful resource that networks can be. The shift in demographics around the world dictates that organisations can no longer afford to pay 'lip service' to inclusion. Inclusion and diversity shouldn’t be seen as the ‘unwelcome guests’ and hope that it goes away but instead seen as something that can enhance the business and its bottom line. Embrace diversity and inclusion and use networks as the ‘welcoming committee’ and provide them with the resources necessary to do their work. The UK workplace has to be more agile and adopt leaner approaches. They have to be frugally innovativeTM and if they want to be more productive, then they need to be more diverse and inclusive. In addition, alongside these changing demands of the business, is a need to unleash and release the employee voice. This is not simply ‘a nice thing to do’ but it is essential to the success of the business because the employee voice is a vital business enabler. Staff networks are effective mechanisms of employee voice and a staff network with a strong voice increases employee engagement, enables effective decision-making and drives innovation – the necessary ingredients for a successful business in the 21st century.
This interview is exclusive to The Business Transformation Network.
Cherron Inko-Tariah is a former civil servant and has undertaken leadership roles in various policy and strategic positions across Whitehall, including working with Ministers and Permanent Secretaries.
In 2012, Cherron took a leap of faith and left the Civil Service to follow her passion; staff networks. After publishing her book: The Incredible Power of Staff Networks, Cherron founded The Power of Staff Networks consultancy where she provides a wide range of services.
An accomplished Chair of a number of staff networks (one to award-winning status), Cherron has facilitated bespoke training to educate employees on the benefits of proactive development. She is passionate about staff networks and the positive impact these can have on the individual and the organisation. That is why Cherron founded the National Day for Staff Networks - the first of its kind celebrating the added value of networks.
During her career, she has achieved a Post Graduate Diploma in Human Resource Management, and a Masters in Employment Studies and Human Resource Management. She qualified in HR with the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD) and is also a qualified career coach with the Institute of Leadership and Management.
In 2011, Cherron received an MBE for her services to HM Government and, also for her work in the faith community with young people.