Employee Networks: A valuable resource for access and inclusion

Wed 26 August 2020

At the Australian Network on Disability’s 2020 Conference, 60% of attendees who answered our poll said that they had an Employee Resource Group (ERG) or Disability Employment Network (DEN) in their organisation and another 11% said that they were in the process of setting one up.

These networks have become a valuable resource within these organisations.

ERGs and DENs are voluntary, employee-led groups that amplify the voice of people with disability. They create a collaborative space to learn directly from people with disability.

As a driving force for access and inclusion, AND members credit ERGs with accomplishing goals such as:

  • Improving work conditions and accessibility of work environments.
  • Fostering a sense of belonging and inspiring conversations that bring new perspectives and drive innovation.
  • Uniting employees in a safe place where everyone can feel comfortable sharing their experiences and bringing their whole selves to work.
  • Helping leaders identify and address company-wide challenges and gaps in experiences in order for everyone, regardless of role or demographic, to succeed.

Effective ERGs are both top-down and bottom-up. They require support from the executive management team to fund and endorse the ERG, and employees to participate as members or allies.

At our June Roundtables and 2020 Conference, some of our member organisations discussed their ERGs, its evolution and how they are supporting their employees through COVID-19:

Paul Scantlebury, Patrick Medd, and Hannah Judd, Ability Network, EY

EY’s Ability Network started 2 years ago with 70 members and now has around 680 members. EY used events such as Invictus games to spark interest and generate engagement when they first launched their Ability Network. They also created engagement through acknowledging the organisations that came on board and the contributions they bring.

Essentials that have helped drive the Ability Network:

  • Sponsorship on a regional basis to get support from partners to ensure members are engaged.
  • D&I strategy alignment.
  • Ensuring the network is meaningful and purposeful for members.  
  • Looking at the bigger picture and sharing our knowledge globally.

“Having an active senior sponsor has made a huge difference to the success and impact of our network.”

EY has focused their 2020 activities on awareness and celebration through events such as International Day of People with Disability, getting involved in AND’s PACE Mentoring program and Stepping Into Internship program, and implementing a 2020 Workplace Adjustments pilot.

Matthew Parker, Enablers Network, Victorian Government

The Enablers Network has 550+ members and they drive their disability inclusion efforts through events and collaboration. Their smaller Enablers Networks in each VPS (Victorian Public Sector) departments focus on Disability Action Planning, addressing accessibility and inclusion matters and building resilience within the network and across the VPS.

“COVID-19 provided a level playing field for people with disability, as people have been disabled at this time.” Matthew Parker

How the Enablers Network has been supporting their members during COVID-19:

  • At the beginning of the pandemic Shaun Tyrell, President of the Enablers Network, reached out to all Network members with a genuine letter of concern and offer of support.
  • The Enablers tapped into DENs in all six VPS departments and provided a “customised response”.
  • Subnetworks have been critical in supporting the mental health and wellbeing of members through connecting more regularly, allowing work flexibility and listening to concerns during this time of increased social isolation and heightened anxiety.
  • Subnetworks have been taking note of the supportive measures that worked and didn’t work throughout COVID-19 to build on accessibility and inclusion learnings.

“The Enablers have found the new normal is one where people with disability have the technology they require and the right people to talk to when needed. We are now prepared, probably heaps more tolerant, innovative and understanding of the needs of our peers.” Matthew Parker

Ricki Sandler, Abilities Network, ANZ

ANZ’s Abilities Network aims to shape an inclusive workplace throughaligning its strategy to the purpose of ANZ, supporting the Access and Inclusion Plan and celebrating diversity. With a focus on raising disability awareness, the Network hosts various events including Annual ANZ Awards; celebrating the individuals and teams who have made ANZ a more inclusive and accessible workplace.

“I am grateful that we have the abilities network and significant senior support within the organisation that has allowed us to get on the front foot of the COVID-19 crisis.” – Ricki Sandler

How ANZ’s Abilities Network has been supporting their members through COVID-19:  

  • ANZ’s head of Talent and Culture sent a message to all employees, asking what support or adjustments they might need to work safely and productively.

“It is important to note that just because nobody says anything, it doesn't mean they don't need support. There is no one size fits all approach, and it is important that we consider the needs of all employees.” – Ricki Sandler

  • The Abilities Network have been regularly connecting with their members and sharing best practices for working from home.
  • ANZ’s Head of Technology has been embedding accessibility into every plan to ensure tools can be used effectively daily.

Ricki mentioned that AND’s PACE mentoring program is also a key pillar of the ANZ Abilities Network for influencing change and increasing disability confidence within the organisation and the broader Australian workforce.

ANZ has now had over 500 mentoring partnerships since the program's inception, and the outcomes we see are for every program, year after year, never fail to amaze me.” – Ricki Sandler

Emily Reaper, Disability Ability Wellness Network, Life Without Barriers

Formed in mid-2019, Life Without Barriers’ Disability Ability Wellness Network (DAWN) was created as a measure through their accessibility inclusion employment plan (AIEP). The DAWN team found collaborating in-person was a really important step for growing the Network.  

“With our mix of life experience, roles and personalities, we could connect as a group and really engage in what we wanted the network to become.” – Emily Reaper

DAWN currently has 6 committee members of frontline and administration staff as well as executive-level sponsors, that Emily says have been a key part of their success.

“We have added high-level support in the organisation, outside of the Human Resources area, as well as being able to look for some guidance in decision-making.” – Emily Reaper

How DAWN has been supporting their members through COVID-19:  

  • Actively promoting what they can do to support employees e.g. workplace adjustments.
  • Creating a safe and non-judgemental environment for employees to comfortably share their needs, desired adjustments or concerns with their managers or fellow members.
  • EOIs from staff, sharing messages (e.g. intranet, leader of the organisation), and undertaking engagement surveys.

“We understand that we have a long way to go, but by creating a Disability Awareness Network, we can grow as an organisation.” – Emily Reaper

If you are a member and would like to find out more about ERGs, contact your Relationship Manager or go to our ‘Frequently asked DEN questions’ page in the members area of our website. If you are a non-member and would like to find out more contact us.

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