Most people are familiar with the concept of mentoring - where an experienced, senior employee pairs up with a less experienced, more junior colleague to share their advice and expertise, offering guidance and support. ‘Reverse mentoring’ describes the opposite of this, where a younger, more junior member of staff mentors their more senior colleague. Reverse mentoring benefits both parties and gives junior members the opportunity to build relationships with senior staff and benefit from their knowledge and experience, whilst also giving senior staff the opportunity to learn from younger employees, who have different skills and experiences. Reverse mentoring was first popularised by the former CEO of General Electric, Jack Welch. In 1999, he decided to match up 500 of his top executives with junior staff members to help them learn to use the internet. Since then, companies such as Coca Cola, Target, Mastercard and KPMG have developed their own reverse mentoring programmes. It has not only been useful for helping older staff members adapt to new digital technologies, but it has also proven to be effective at helping companies become more diverse and inclusive.
LGBTQ INCLUSION IN THE WORKPLACE
Over the last 20 years, hundreds of businesses have adopted policies and practices aimed at improving LGBTQ inclusion, but it continues to be a challenge for many workplaces. Stonewall, the UK’s leading charity for LGBTQ equality, published its Work Report in 2018, based on research conducted by YouGov. It found that 35% of LGBTQ staff in the UK have hidden the fact that they identify as LGBTQ at work due to fear of discrimination and nearly 38% of LGBTQ staff have not come out to anyone at work. 18% of LGBTQ staff have been the target of negative comments or conduct in the past year due to their sexual orientation or gender identity and 10% of BAME LGBTQ employees have been physically attacked, either by colleagues or customers at work.
Reflecting on these statistics, the Chief Executive of Stonewall Ruth Hunt stated ‘over the past decade leading employers across all sectors have shown a real commitment to inclusion and have taken positive steps towards LGBTQ equality. Unfortunately, the findings of our Work Report show there’s still lots to do […] creating a workplace that accepts everyone isn’t just the right thing to do, it makes good business sense. When staff feel comfortable and happy, they will perform much better than if they’re having to hide who they are. We need more organisations and businesses to be active and visible in demonstrating their support for their LGBT employees’.
SO HOW CAN REVERSE MENTORING HELP?
Research from the Economist Intelligence Unit suggests that younger employees are the most likely to drive change in terms of LGBTQ diversity and inclusion. Michael Gold, editor and author of the report stated ‘the results indicate that there is a gap between the views of company leaders and the messages reaching lower-level workers - one that even the most inclusion-minded bosses may struggle to bridge’. Reverse mentoring could be used to bridge this gap and provide a space for conversations between junior employees and company leaders. Reverse mentoring for LGBTQ inclusion pairs members of senior management with younger, more junior LGBTQ staff or allies. Stonewall lists reverse mentoring as one if its key recommendations for companies who want to become more LGBTQ friendly. They suggest it not only increases awareness of LGBT issues among senior management but also provides career development opportunities for LGBTQ staff. Accenture is one of the companies that has used reverse mentoring to improve its LGBTQ inclusion and a number of Managing Directors have been mentored by members of their LGBTQ staff network. According to Stonewall ‘this has provided [Accenture’s] senior leaders with the opportunity to ask questions they may not normally feel comfortable asking in public’ and gives them a ‘more intimate insight into the challenges and experiences of LGBTQ staff’. Things that could be discussed in mentoring sessions include:
Barriers faced by LGBTQ employees in the workplace
Importance of workplace role models
Negative stereotypes surrounding the LGBTQ community and how to combat them
Outside experiences of discrimination and how they impact on work
How to normalise conversations about sexuality and gender identity
The use of gender neutral language and gender neutral restrooms
Traditional mentoring focuses on the development of the junior mentee, but reverse mentoring benefits both parties. Senior mentees get insightful feedback from employees, that helps them to become ‘change agents’ and use their position to improve the workplace culture. It also gives them the opportunity to develop their own skills and ability to lead diverse teams. Junior mentors gain visibility as role models to other LGBTQ employees, widen their network by building relationships with senior management and have the opportunity to shape the wider diversity and inclusion strategy of their organisation. Reverse mentoring also benefits the organisation as a whole. Reverse mentoring schemes help to normalise conversations about sexuality and gender identity in the workplace, broaden understanding about the different experiences and barriers faced by LGBT employees and develop interpersonal relationships between employees. This all leads to a more inclusive workplace environment, where all employees are comfortable being themselves at work.
WERKIN helps companies and organisations that are committed to making themselves more diverse and inclusive. WERKIN believes that mentorship is a driver of inclusivity and its tech-enabled Modern Mentorship platform facilitates mentoring and reverse mentoring programmes. Employees create digital profiles of their skills, experience and achievements and algorithms impartially match senior executives with junior staff. Nudge technology encourages mentors and mentees throughout the process, helping them follow through on their commitments and build long lasting connections.
Reverse mentoring has revolutionary potential for making workplaces more LGBT inclusive. WERKIN’s Modern Mentorship can ensure that work is a place where all employees can be themselves and have equal opportunity to pursue their goals.