The importance of staff networks – who cares?

Back in 2005 Transport for London launched their staff network groups, I remember it well. I’d been in the job about 10 months and had been actively looking to see if LGBT matters were on TfL’s staff priority list. Although I’m comfortable with my own sexuality, I wanted to connect with other like-minded people at work. Why bother? Well, what makes us different also binds us together.

In those days quarterly meetings were packed, a real sense of community in the workplace. However, what starts with great intentions often leads to disquiet and malaise. By 2012, our once burgeoning network was suffering from a declining membership. Quarterly meetings were a handful of people – the same people – and the sense of community was gone. So why would I, now eight years into my relationship with TfL bother to stand as Chair? There’s no simple answer to this; I felt the need to turn it around, and was under pressure from my boss (who was the MD Senior Sponsor) to accept the challenge. So I stuck my neck out and went for it.
Fast forward to 2015 and we’ve increased our traditional membership by about 75 per cent. I’ve managed to add more people in three years than the seven years before if you take leavers into consideration. But our membership is more than just email sign-ups now; we have a Twitter feed (@TfLLGBT) and a Yammer network for employees (mainly operational). So there’s no excuse if your role means you can’t get regular access to a PC in the office, like almost 15,000 of our staff.

1052896_10151738309561796_456450572_oSo how did all happen? Drive, determination and an uncanny ability to make things happen. I’m not going to go through a whole list here but I set out to modernise and broaden the appeal of what we do. I ditched poorly attended quarterly meetings. I turned our LGBT History Month event into a night of fun, music and laughter – and the simplest thing of all, raised the rainbow flag above our office in Broadway for Pride in London.

You’ll also know if you read my other blogs that we’ve also engaged with the LGBT community in a way that’s never been done before. When I took on the role I knew TfL was the biggest brand in London, (sorry Corporates but we are) and leveraged that with some amazing sponsors. This was all to demonstrate to people that not only did TfL take LGBT matters seriously, but we actually employed – shock,horror – LGBT staff. I suspect that there is a much higher incidence of LGBT people looking for jobs in TfL as a result, and that can only be goodCN1mEh4WsAANpm-.

So back to my question; who cares? Well tell that to newly employed member of staff working on a station at the far reaches of our network, who shares his mess room with straight ‘blokes’. Say that to the manager of a trans member of staff who didn’t know what to put on the form for their colleague’s final gender reassignments operation, through fear of them being found out. And ask our 4,500 Twitter followers (the second largest network feed in Europe by the way) who – quite rightly – barrage our feed with request for limited edition Oyster wallets.

Now I’m not a saint, and yes i got a medal. But thinking different and making a difference is what makes me tick. I hope you think it’s not a bad way to be.

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