reverse mentoring

Reverse mentoring is where a senior colleague is mentored by a more junior colleague who, from a diversity and inclusion perspective, is different from them in some way, and therefore experiences their career differently. It is a way for senior-level executives to build awareness of the barriers faced by those from diverse and under-represented groups who are given an opportunity to share their unique and often unheard insights. Reverse mentoring challenges established hierarchies and promotes an environment where all experiences, skills and ideas are leveraged. Successful implementation of reverse mentoring improves employee engagement and progression across the sector. Reverse mentoring matches mentors and mentees according to a set of criteria. Feedback has shown that by introducing a cross-industry pairing, it allows for more candid and open conversations.

In this article we discover how a reverse mentor and mentee established their relationship and built trust and understanding through sharing experiences and different perspectives.

Reverse Mentee: When I first heard about reverse mentoring, it wasn’t a term I’d ever heard before. I’ve been involved in lots of traditional mentoring in the past, both as a mentor and as a mentee at different times in my career. My main driver for wanting to explore it was having reflected on the size of my team. I have seven direct regional leaders who work for me and one of the big things in our plan over the last three or four years has been around inclusion and diversity and breaking that down into lots of different strands – gender, race, ability, etc. We are focusing on how we move forward as a business on this so an opportunity for me to get some real coaching and real mentoring from somebody from an area that I can’t naturally relate to, was just brilliant.

Reverse Mentor: When I initially found out about reverse mentoring, I was really excited about the program. But this part was the most daunting for me because I’d never heard of reverse mentoring before and didn’t know what it entailed. For me personally, I wanted to embrace the entire program and I didn’t know what I could contribute. I felt like I’d have to go in with 8,000 ideas and I’d have to start putting things in place and be really strong without being dominating. I was fearful – this person that I have no knowledge of and isn’t part of my company – could have been anyone in the world.

Reverse Mentee: It’s interesting when you go through the induction as a collective. I came away feeling quite nervous because it’s quite formal and very structured. We first made a date where we could just have our first one-to-one as a Hangout meeting. To this day, we’ve still never actually physically met, in spite of now being best friends, as well as having a great mentor relationship. We shaped that first meeting to do nothing other than get to know each other. So, we didn’t start to explore race or any of the topics that we were going to ultimately get into. We spent the first one asking each other lots of questions in advance and shared things like what’s our ‘go to’ karaoke song when we’ve had a drink, the place on earth that we’d most liked to visit and our favourite food. We spent an hour on that first session, and I think we got through about three of the 20 questions that we’d prepared, because we just started to get to know each other. And it was a really lovely session.

I think there is a vulnerability to this. For me, I wanted to try and learn lots from my Reverse Mentor, and I needed to know a little bit more before I opened up and started to show that vulnerability and explore things. Because ultimately, I was trying to build a relationship where I was going to get a huge benefit. I knew that I needed to have a really open and honest set of conversations with my Reverse Mentor. In any walk of life, you want to know that person a little bit and you want to have trust in them.

Reverse Mentor: I think it was really important for us because all we knew initially was name, title, and company. And I think it’s really important to recognize that we’re all individuals.

Reverse Mentee: At the second meeting, we started with a set of principles that we would stick to around the meetings, and we were very clear on what we wanted out of the relationship. Whilst it’s very driven towards me as the mentee getting the biggest benefit, in our experience it didn’t have to be exclusively one way either. Our contracting was really honest around being straight with each other. And that meant that sometimes we might say or hear something that made us feel uncomfortable. It was being brave when exploring an emotive topic.

Reverse Mentor: I knew I wouldn’t necessarily always know the answer straight away. My Reverse Mentee allowed me the flexibility and the openness to say I could come back to it in our next session, and we’d move on to the next topic. One thing we did is set an agenda on what we wanted to talk about.

Reverse Mentee: Having an agenda for every meeting has been really helpful. We haven’t always stuck to it religiously, but it’s been a good guide. We went from having a session every couple of weeks for an hour, but we extended it to 90 minutes. It is easy to drift, especially when you get on so well. You spend 20 minutes asking how the weekend was so having an agenda of some points to talk through has been really helpful. It’s kept us on track.

Reverse Mentee: The inclusion and diversity piece is a journey we’re going along well. I think we’re doing a lot of really good stuff as a business. But this was about what you don’t know and what you can learn from other businesses and from other individuals. I’ve definitely learnt loads from my Reverse Mentor, but I’ve also learnt a bit from their organisation. One thing that’s happened on the back of this relationship is that my Reverse Mentor came along to one of my divisional meetings and presented to my team, so they also got the benefit. I also went to their company and spent some time with them and their team, sharing some of the things that the two businesses are doing. So, it goes much broader than the individual relationship.