Staff Networks Board Development Offer


Frequently asked questions ​

What are staff networks?

Staff networks are made up of employees who come together around a shared purpose to improve staff experience within their organisation and across the NHS. They are generally established to provide support, enhance career development, and contribute to personal development in the work environment.

They share heritage, lived experience, and characteristics which are usually linked to the protected characteristics of the Equality Act 2010.

Common NHS staff networks include:

  • BAME (Black, Asian, and minority ethnic)
  • Disability
  • LGBT+ (Lesbian, gay, bisexual, trans +plus queer or questioning, intersex, asexual, and all other gender identities and sexual orientations)
  • Religion or belief (for example, Christianity, Islam, Judaism, multi-faith)
  • Women

Why are staff networks important?

Staff networks are one of the core disruptors of inequalities, providing protected safe spaces where people can be truly open and inclusive, nurturing a culture of belonging and trust. They offer psychological and emotional safety, with the freedom to have discussions that count.

Not only do they provide a supportive and welcoming space for our people they offer expertise on matters related to equality, diversity, and inclusion. Expertise that organisations; including Boards and senior leaders, should make better use of to inform senior level decision-making to help workforce development, improve employee experience and retention, and to positively influence national policy and patient care.

As NHS staff networks increase in size and number, they continue to ensure our people make meaningful connections with those with similar life experiences in networks, and help people to exercise leadership, build contacts and advisor networks, find sponsors or allies, amplify voices and to share in decision making.

They also provide opportunities for people to build confidence to speak up in forums outside of the network space, as well as addressing local concerns and linking people to collaborate and innovate intuitively across the NHS.

Who can be a staff network sponsor?

​​​​​​​Any Board Member can be a network sponsor. This includes Executive and Non-Executive members of the Board. Having sponsors at Board level helps to ensure accountability and that staff voices are heard and included in decision making.

You don’t necessarily have to be from the network community to be a sponsor. This is an opportunity for you to learn about a group and gain real insight to help develop your own learning.

What should I think about when playing my role as a sponsor?

​​​​​​​​​​​​​​Most networks are trying to make a change to, or influence both culture and processes at their organisations. However, they often need support with establishing good governance for aligning and enabling delivery of their objectives. Sponsors can support them by acting as advocates to ensure network objectives are aligned with their organisation’s and providing guidance to help them utilise wider opportunities available in the organisation to aid delivery of their objectives.

​​​​​​​For some senior leaders, taking on the role of a sponsor is a new challenge. The skills and approach needed to play this role may require a different approach to the ‘leadership’ styles honed for their day jobs. Network sponsorship is about being able to see through the eyes of others and relishing opportunities to engage with emerging leaders.

What type of things can I do to support the staff networks I sponsor?

Sponsoring a staff network is about supporting colleagues to create an inclusive workplace for people in your organisation.

Your role as a staff network sponsor does not necessarily stop when you interact with networks, it forms part of your work as a senior leader in your organisation.

Things you can do include:

  • Participate at network events
  • Visibly endorse participation in the staff networks
  • Hold scheduled meetings with staff network leads to challenge and support them
  • Champion the group amongst their senior peers and amplify staff voice at Board level
  • Brief the staff network committee on issues arising that could affect members
  • Help to align staff networks with mainstream functions and services in your organisation

Where can I find additional information and resources about staff network sponsorship?

We are gathering an Equality Diversity and Inclusion repository of good practice, which we will share here. In the meantime, we encourage you to explore other sections on this website.