In 2017 a team of researchers led by our client, Anna Einardottir, Senior Lecturer in Work, Management and Organisation at the University of York, set out to understand LGBT+ employee networks.
Such networks are often a celebrated staple – seen as a force for good for bringing marginalised voices to the fore and building inclusive workplaces. Yet, prior to this research, little concrete evidence existed to support these assumptions. So, Anna and her team set out to bridge the knowledge gap by researching LGBT+ employee networks in one of the world’s largest employers – the NHS.
“The NHS is such a huge organisation and has loads of LGBT+ staff networks. For research purposes it was large enough for us to carry out multiple case studies,” says Anna. “And while there may be slight differences between networks in the NHS and the private sector overall, I think the challenges are similar and our learnings useful beyond the NHS.”
Their research explored; how LGBT+ networks run, who is involved, what they do, who they serve, where they are heading, the challenges they face, what impact they have and, most critically, their ‘why’.
Some three years later, Anna and her team were ready to release their report – brimming with insights and recommendations to help maximise the role of LGBT+ networks to effect change.
“We know people can be the best they can be at work when they can be themselves. We know effective networks can create an environment for real change to happen within organisations. Now, because of this research, we also understand that having certain structural, operational, and strategic elements in place significantly helps LGBT+ networks reach their full potential,” says Anna.
The team envisaged two in-person launch events to share their findings but, just as they readied their final report for publication, the world began battling COVID-19. The easy move would have been to delay the launch event, or worse still cancel altogether, but the team agreed that wouldn’t have been beneficial to anyone. Instead they decided to host their first virtual event. It was at this point that Anna turned to Axiom for help.
“From the outset Axiom understood exactly what we wanted to achieve and were so enthusiastic about our project. They recognised this was our first virtual event and offered a lot of support,” says Anna.
The communications challenge was to replicate the spirit of an in-person event… virtually. To offer LGBT+ network organisers and their allies, in the NHS and beyond, the opportunity to hear the findings first, directly from the researchers.
With the report recommending LGBT+ network organisers should make space for personal sharing between members and learn from other staff networks, Anna didn’t want the event’s virtual nature to preclude participants from sharing their learnings with each other.
“It was important to us that the event was interactive and that there was time for people to digest and share information,” says Anna. “Axiom suggested loads of things that I’m glad we did because they really worked. From day one Axiom’s Managing Director, Chris, was involved. I couldn’t have asked for a better collaborator – he was just spot on and amazing to work with. Throughout, he was full of ideas and advice about how to make the event more interactive. I hadn’t imagined beforehand that participants would be so willing to interact and engage,” says Anna.
The extraordinary level of participant engagement was one of the event’s undeniable successes. People could communicate in multiple ways, with the event’s host encouraging them to share their reflections, questions, and comments from the outset. To encourage that interactivity, participant contributions were anonymised. And, if a post resonated, the host encouraged others to ‘like’ it to help prioritise questions for answering.
“Participants started answering each other’s questions, really embracing the opportunity to share their experiences and learnings with each other. Axiom worked hard to help us create a safe space for people to share and we had amazing engagement – probably much greater than we’d have ever seen face-to-face,” says Anna.
Axiom carefully selected the right digital meeting tech provider to partner with, to seamlessly deliver the event.
“Axiom worked as a bridge between us and the tech people to ensure everything went smoothly. There were never any hiccups. The product was easy, accessible and uncomplicated,” says Anna who admits to being completely new to this type of tech.
Together Axiom and Anna created an all-morning virtual event comprising a blend of live, pre-recorded and interactive content. There were six speakers with some giving multiple presentations. There was also a vibrant live discussion with eight panellists. Axiom rehearsed all the speakers, panellists and coached the chair, behind the scenes and ahead of the event, to get everyone’s content, performance, tech and technique right.
The virtual nature of this event provided several other benefits Anna hadn’t imagined before running it.
“When you have a short time frame in which to deliver key messages you want to minimise unhelpful language and get to the point. If we hadn’t been able to rehearse and pre-record speakers with Axiom acting as a critical friend, I don’t think we’d have got the quality of the presentations that we did,” says Anna.
Chris Carey, Axiom’s Managing Director, who worked closely with Anna to deliver this event adds: “Public speaking doesn’t come easy to everyone, especially when you don’t do it often. One of the real benefits often overlooked with virtual conferencing is the flexibility the tech gives you to blend live and pre-recorded content. It takes the pressure off speakers to be word perfect first time and the beauty is your audience can’t tell the difference. It’s also much easier to convene a fantastic speaker line up when everyone can dial in from wherever they are, but on the day, with 500 participants online, as was the case for this launch, you want to know everyone is going to be able to see and hear your speakers – Axiom can take care of all that. And you still get to keep that edgy spontaneity we all love in events, through the truly live interactive exercises and panel discussions.”
Virtual conferencing made other aspects of inclusivity easy too. This event included live signing and subtitles for those with hearing difficulties. The entire event was also recorded, and the link made available to everyone who had registered within 24-hours.
“It’s the legacy a conference makes that makes the difference,” says Anna. “The recordings for this event were well prepared and professionally done. Having that quality recording means our message didn’t just get out there, it stays out there. People’s time is strained, having this event available on demand means they can watch it in their own time – and can even engage new audiences with the topic. That’s valuable to all professionals but for a group like the NHS it’s crucial,” concludes Anna.
What our client says
“The outcome was so good, and Axiom deserves at least half the glory for that. We’d hoped to launch our report with an event for 250 participants – Axiom helped us secure twice that. And those people didn’t just ‘show and go’ we had amazing engagement. We’ve now also got on demand material that has a legacy. I couldn’t have asked for a better collaborative partner. It was wonderful to work with Axiom, they are a great company, and I would work with them again anytime.”
Anna Einarsdottir, Principle Investigator, LGBT+ Networks and Senior Lecturer, University of York