Ofcom LGBT network chair, Sam Ruiz, offers his words of wisdom to anybody thinking about volunteering to lead their department’s LGBT network.

I arrived at Ofcom just over a year ago, as a new starter on the graduate scheme. By the time I found out about the mythical Affinity Network for LGBT colleagues, I’d already clocked that Ofcom was a pretty gay-friendly place to work. I’d been open with all my co-workers about having a boyfriend, and had found a handful of fellow LGBT colleagues.

It turned out that the fabled LGBT staff network wasn’t exactly very active. Nobody was actually running it, and the last time the network had had a committee I was still at university. It was a call for volunteers from our valiant corporate responsibility advisor, who’d kept a number of LGBT initiatives on the boil in the network’s absence, which finally got me involved. After helping to write some profiles of prominent LGBT figures in the sectors we regulate for LGBT History Month, I was asked if I might be interested in helping to rejuvenate the staff network.

Within weeks, we’d held open meetings for any member of staff to come along and help us brainstorm what the newly-rejuvenated Affinity Network (it’s kept the same name since it first kicked off in 2008) would actually do. With a rough list of responsibilities for the network drafted, we chose a committee to run the show. In a move I would later come to question, on the various occasions when my actual job became very hectic, I put myself forward as chair – and was accepted.

So, within six months of starting at Ofcom I’d somehow managed to be put in charge of an entire (brand new) staff network. Which brings me onto my main take-home message:

Three reasons why you should volunteer to lead your LGBT network:

Experience

Being the chair of the Affinity Network has given me a crash course in a range of different skills: project management, chairing meetings, preparing minutes, and planning for the longer term, among others. Particularly for a new or small network, things only get done if someone volunteers to do them – so volunteers with staff networks (chairs or otherwise) will probably end up being jacks of all trades. So far we’ve resurrected the mailing list, taken papers through internal governance, organised social events and fed into staff consultations. If you’re looking to develop your career, volunteering with a staff network can be a fantastic way to take on more responsibility at work, and demonstrate skills you might not be using otherwise.

Meet the rest of your organisation!

Even though, as a graduate, I move around Ofcom quite regularly, there’s no doubt that working with the network has given me the chance to meet people around the organisation I probably wouldn’t have worked with otherwise. From lawyers to economists and web designers to group directors, you’ll build up an enviable network of contacts, and help the whole organisation to be more joined-up afterwards.

It’s actually really fun!

Not only have I had the chance to get to know my colleagues at Ofcom better, but the short time I’ve been with the network so far has also given me the chance to network with other LGBT groups, represent Ofcom externally and make new friends in other organisations’ LGBT networks.

 

It’s not easy trying to build a staff network from scratch. There’s no manual, and everyone who’s involved is balancing the time they spend on the network with their regular jobs. But it’s also a great learning experience, and great fun – and it’s all worth it, even if it helps just one other staff member to feel comfortable enough to be themselves at work.


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