Building better leaders and organizations via inclusion based Reverse Mentorship

Employee diversity and inclusion are leadership goals in almost all organizations today, but the question is how do we achieve this? Forward thinking organizations use inclusion based Reverse Mentorship as a tool to empower junior team members to guide senior leaders.


Overview:

Today the workforce consists of four generations [1] and is becoming more diverse across all spectrums of underrepresented groups including age, gender, race. This change however is not as evident in leadership positions leading to a growing gap between leaders and their teams with regards to perspectives. For example: 34% of the STEM workforce in 2022 was made up of women, yet only 8.1% of Fortune 500 CEOs are female [2]. Additionally, Latina, Black and Indigenous women represent 10% of the STEM workforce [3] yet there are only two black female CEOs in Fortune 500 companies [4]. Despite these numbers increasing from previous years, most senior managers still tend to be male. With such important topics such as race equality and gender equality at the forefront of society, we need to support an environment for these conversations.

Bringing diverse perspectives together creates a more inclusive working environment. A Reverse Mentorship program provides senior leader mentees an opportunity to learn, to better understand issues and challenges minorities face in the workplace, while empowering early in career under-represented employees with a voice to share their experiences and thoughts. The program facilitates an open learning environment where mentees and mentors can talk, listen, empathize, learn and grow together.

Why organizations should participate:

Diverse teams are proven to be more successful in driving results. According to Harvard Business Review [6], enriching your employee pool with representatives of different genders, races, and nationalities is key for boosting your company’s joint intellectual potential. Creating a more diverse workplace will help to keep team members’ biases in check and make them question their assumptions. [7]

Employee diversity and inclusion are leadership goals at most organizations, but how can these goals be achieved? Forward thinking organizations can use reverse mentoring as a tool to build more diverse and inclusive teams and environments. Reverse Mentoring is an incredibly powerful tool as it truly is the transfer and exchange of knowledge between individuals across all spectrums (specifically underrepresented) of the workforce. A Harvard Business Review [5] study found that mentoring programs focused on specific identity groups had positive results. Researchers determined there was:

  • An 18 percent increase in leadership positions for African American women,

  • A 23.7 percent increase in leadership opportunities for Hispanic women,

  • A 24 percent increase in leadership opportunities for Asian women.

Reverse Mentoring can be a catalyst for quantifiable change and impact within your organization including diverse hiring as well as retention within underrepresented groups.

Why organizational leaders should participate:

Investing and committing to a Reverse Mentorship program requires genuine curiosity and commitment. A senior leader needs to be intentional about the relationship to make it valuable. A better understanding of what it’s like to be an early in career employee helps uncover an unconsidered perspective. Senior leaders will also come to find that the younger mentor can be an incredible confidant and test bed for organizational policy and health. There are several tangible benefits to a mentee (senior leader);

  • Learning a new perspective from an early in career under represented employee around age, race, culture, values, motivation, skills, and processes,

  • Receiving feedback, active listening, guidance on leadership skills,

  • Being able to ideate about organizational policies and practices and how would they be received by someone inside of the organization,

  • Spreading learnings amongst peers,

  • Receiving important network and contact

Why early in career employees should participate:

A Reverse Mentorship program empowers junior professionals to share their experiences, develop confidence and influence the future culture of the company creating a sense of ownership and leadership. Like the above commitment needed from organizational leaders, early in career employees must be willing to provide senior leaders with honest opinions and commitment. Tangible benefits to a mentor (early in career employee);

  • Influencing organizational change

  • Feeling heard and understood by senior leaders by sharing a different perspective

  • Closing generational gaps

  • Developing leadership skills

  • Developing communication skills

  • Developing self-confidence and self-awareness

  • Network and contact opportunities


Recommended guidelines

The following guidelines were built through actual practice and lessons learned from Reverse Mentorship programs

1. Clearly define expectations and ground rules

  • In order for a Reverse Mentorship pairing to be successful, both parties need to be genuinely curious about learning and intentionally commit to the relationship

  • Host 1:1 sessions in a mentor’s office space or within a neutral location

  • Mentor and mentee should not be within the same leadership chain as this can lead to unease and bias

2. Lead with a growth mindset

  • Establish trust and respect with honest conversations and the mutual goal of learning

  • Stay open minded throughout the process

  • Identify topics which are off-limits e.g. family and both parties to be respectful of this

3. Mentee drives the 1:1 sessions

  • Mentee sets the agenda ahead of time e.g. how policies directly impact early in career employees directly or indirectly

  • Recommended cadence and duration of 45 min long sessions every 3 weeks for a minimum of 6 sessions

  • Mentee to write a summary mail/ review noting down key takeaways. This is useful for tracking purposes as well as maintaining continuity across sessions

Tip: Seek differences, not similarities in conversations as this is where the most growth and power of Reverse Mentorship lies


How to set up a Reverse Mentorship program

Starting a diverse Reverse Mentorship program comes with a myriad of benefits for your organization and your employees. From building and retaining more inclusive teams to shifting perspectives and building a more inclusive organizational culture, this program can be a catalyst for organizational change. However, managing and organizing this program can be an administrative challenge. The Seattle Women in Tech Consortium in partnership with Upnotch have a free program that can be rolled out within your organization.

Download Upnotch today on iOS or Android to find a Reverse Mentor



Sources:

[1] Generations in the Workplace: Boomers, Gen X, Gen Y, and Gen Z Explained - Workest (zenefits.com)

[2] The female CEOs on the Fortune 500 just broke three all-time records | Fortune

[3] https://ngcproject.org/sites/default/files/downloadables/2022-03/ngcp_stateofgirlsandwomeninstem_2022b.pdf

[4] The Fortune 500 now has two Black women CEOs. That's actually an improvement - CNN

[5] Why Diversity Programs Fail (hbr.org)

[6] https://hbr.org/2016/11/why-diverse-teams-are-smarter

[7] *The Diversity Bonus: How Great Teams Pay Off in the Knowledge Economy - introduction (princeton.edu)

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