A group of people in discussion sat on chairs in front of a grand staircase
Staff Networks meet regularly to discuss issues that are important to their membership, © Historic England Archive. DP346650.
Staff Networks meet regularly to discuss issues that are important to their membership, © Historic England Archive. DP346650.

Establishing and Supporting Staff Networks

The Historic England Staff Networks exist to represent and advocate for our workforce. They raise awareness of specific issues, provide peer support and champion marginalised voices.

There are currently six Staff Networks at Historic England:

  • Disability Equality
  • Gender Equality
  • Neurodiversity
  • Pride (covering LGBTQ+)
  • Race Equality
  • Social Mobility

Four of the Staff Networks (Disability Equality, Gender Equality, Pride, and Race Equality) were originally set up by Human Resources (HR) in 2009. The Neurodiversity and Social Mobility Staff Networks were developed in 2020.

Each network has one chair or two co-chairs, and a champion from HR and the Executive Team. The Inclusion Team began the co-management of the networks in 2020.
The Staff Networks meet regularly to discuss issues that are important to their membership, advocating for positive change within Historic England and the wider heritage sector.

Terms of reference

All networks have ‘terms of reference’, which explain why the network exists, who it is for and how to join.

Co-written by the chairs, membership, HR and Inclusion Team, the terms of reference appear on the intranet's landing page for the Staff Networks. They all follow the same format:

  • Why the network exists for Historic England
  • The wider context of why the network exists
  • Who can become a member of the network
  • How you can join the network

Example: Terms of Reference

  1. Staff Networks are safe and productive spaces, designed for communities of staff (and their allies) with shared protected characteristics. They should be informal spaces for networking, sharing experiences, and providing peer support.

  2. While the Staff Networks are highly valued by Historic England (HE) as a resource for staff well-being and community, they are not expected to take on the work of the Human Resources Team or the Inclusion Team. The networks are invited to make suggestions to help HE with developing its commitment to inclusion, diversity and equality. While the Networks may at times be consulted for input, there is no obligation for them to take an active role in this work.  

  3. The standard Terms of Reference are consistent among the Staff Networks, but each may have its own additional terms. These should be developed under the guidance of the network chairs and should be reviewed annually. Staff Networks must abide by wider HE policies around GDPR, inclusion and diversity, and the use of Microsoft Teams. They are also encouraged to follow guidance about chairing and participating in inclusive meetings, and must ensure their events are accessible.

  4. The Staff Networks are the responsibility of the Human Resources Team, with support from the Inclusion Team where necessary.

  5. The Staff Networks are governed by two co-chairs. Election of chairs will vary from network to network depending on the size and function of each. We recommend a maximum term of three years in these roles, but it may be deemed appropriate for terms to be longer or shorter. Some networks might also wish to establish a committee with assigned roles. Membership of the networks is open to all but aimed primarily at those with the relevant shared protected characteristics and their allies. Any concerns about members and their behaviour should be referred to Human Resources.

  6. Each Staff Network has one Human Resources representative, in addition to one representative from the Executive Team. It may not always be appropriate for these representatives to be present at every network meeting, discussion or event. It is the responsibility of the representatives to keep involved with the networks. Staff Network members should raise any concerns about these representatives with the Human Resources Team or the Inclusion Team.

  7. Staff Network co-chairs are expected to attend quarterly meetings for all Staff Network co-chairs. These are chaired by Human Resources and/or the Inclusion Team. The purpose of these meetings is to align the objectives of the Inclusion Team, Human Resources and Staff Networks (where appropriate) in support of Historic England’s Inclusion, Diversity and Equality ambitions; to provide an opportunity for updates; for co-chairs to raise any concerns or issues; and to provide a space for peer support and connection between the networks and their chairs.

  8. Employees participating in Staff Networks will be supported with time to carry out group activities or meetings during their working days. Conversations should take place with their manager in advance of any time required, allowing managers to monitor and manage any impact on the employee’s work or wellbeing. Employees interested in co-chairing a Staff Network would need to discuss this with their manager before taking up the role. The emphasis will be on enabling them to participate in this capacity, but will need to be balanced with ensuring it does not impact on their work or their well-being.

  9. Each Staff Network is responsible for its own communication and organising the regularity of its meetings or events. We recommend that networks have a Teams Space in addition to the dedicated Intranet spaces, but they may wish to establish a mailing list or other means of communications. We ask that co-chairs and members respect that, for some networks, it may be necessary to ensure that membership is treated as confidential. This should be reflected in decisions about how to communicate.

  10. Staff Networks are responsible for determining the types of activities they carry out. These might include regular informal meetings, coffee mornings or catch-ups, discussions, signposting, social events, or other networking opportunities. We recommend that events and meetings should be hybrid where possible to allow as many members to participate as possible. The Inclusion Team may invite networks to take part in ‘Lunch-and-Learn’ sessions, or other events that enable the sharing of experiences and ideas with the wider organisation. Participation in these is optional.

  11. Staff Networks and their members should in the first instance reach out to their Human Resources representative or the Inclusion Team with any concerns or problems. Contact details can be found on each Staff Network’s intranet page.

  12. There are currently six Staff Networks: Disability Equality, Gender Equality, Neurodiversity, Pride (covering LGBTQ+), Race Equality, and Social Mobility. If staff members wish to establish a new network, they should contact Human Resources and the Inclusion Team.

  13. [It might be that different Staff Networks will have their own specific Terms of Reference; for example, ensuring a gender balance of the co-chairs. These should be inserted here.]

Staff Network membership

All Historic England Staff Networks are open to everyone. They particularly welcome those who identify with the characteristics associated to that specific network.

The networks have different goals and communication styles, and network meetings are set up as frequently (and in the style) that each network feels is right. However, the Inclusion Team have worked with the network leads on standard codes of conduct, content warnings and accessibility guidance that all Staff Networks should use for their meetings:

From November 2021, all networks began using Microsoft Teams sites to bring their membership together and keep conversations going online outside of virtual meetings.
The Inclusion Team and key HR colleagues meet with all Staff Network chairs once every three months to focus on shared actions. This helps to bring consistency to the networks in how they operate and cooperate, while recognising the individual nature of each one.

With six Staff Networks established, the Inclusion Team and HR will continue to support them and work to ensure consistency where appropriate. They will introduce more networks should the need and appetite arise.

Lessons Learned

  • Buy-in from the whole organisation assures that staff feel able and supported to take part in Staff Networks. Human Resources, the Inclusion Team and the Executive Team are recognised as a valuable part of Historic England’s vision and help to deliver on the Corporate Plan.
  • While it’s important to create some consistency across the networks, it’s also important to ensure that each can operate in ways that are appropriate to its members. Some networks need additional support from HR and the Inclusion Team; some are more discursive and focused on heritage; some are more concerned with peer support.
  • When Staff Networks have the opportunity to share their experience and knowledge with the rest of the organisation (for example, in Lunch-and-Learn sessions) colleagues get to build their professional development, contributing to a more inclusive work culture.