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How Reverse Mentoring Can Lead to More Equitable Workplaces

How Reverse Mentoring Can Lead to More Equitable Workplaces

We need to rethink the typical mentor-mentee relationship to give authority to younger, less experienced colleagues who have a unique understanding of bias and racial dynamics in order to develop more diversity, equity, and inclusion across sectors.

Since formal research on mentoring first started in the 1980s, the practise has changed. Mentoring has moved in the opposite way from most workplace activities, such as learning, growth, working styles, and project management: It began as a personal interaction between two individuals with varying levels of expertise and prestige that was occasionally initiated by both parties. Organizations have started requiring mentorship in recent years.

Mentoring is described as a careful balancing act between "coaching, advice, feedback, encouragement, and emotional support," with the latter component being the most crucial, in a 2010 Journal of Management article. To be clear, a mentor differs greatly from a sponsor. A mentor, unlike a sponsor, does not have a financial or other personal stake in the success of the mentee. According to Catherine McLaughlin, Senior Fellow at Mathematica, "a mentor is perceived as a role model, someone the [mentee] aspires to mimic," whether in their professional or personal lives. Some people find it far simpler to picture themselves in someone else's shoes further along their envisioned career path than it is for those who do not see themselves in top-line management.

One of the business justifications for mentoring has been to help those who would otherwise find it difficult to advance to the highest levels of management. This approach frequently crosses organisational boundaries to develop and strengthen personal connections. According to McLaughlin's investigation into mentoring in academic settings, for such relationships to succeed, there must be some resemblance between the mentor and mentee: "There needs to be some comfort level, some sense of familiarity, some shared and safe space for the mentoring relationship to be sustainable." It takes a secure atmosphere for the mentor and mentee to discuss some of "the barriers, anxieties, prejudices, problems, and misconceptions" associated with issues of diversity, fairness, and inclusion, according to the mentoring training and consultation firm Management Mentors.

Fostering Belonging

253,000 immigrants entered the workforce in the UK in 2018. Workers of all experience levels are finding themselves in more multicultural, diverse workplaces. According to the most recent census data, 98 percent of the working population in the UK, or 14% of the population, identify as members of an ethnic minority. According to statistics, this group makes up close to 40% of the workforce in urban areas like London and Birmingham.

These workplaces have grown more diverse, but they haven't managed to foster a sense of community. The "white bro culture" that emerged from environments controlled and run by white men permeates the business world. Farah Elahi, a trustee at the race equality think tank The Runnymede Trust, claims that this culture has a "significant negative impact on people's mental health" if they feel unwelcome at work. The psychological repercussions of this exclusion have an impact in business. Low productivity, higher staff turnover, and a lower likelihood of employees speaking out in support of or as brand ambassadors for their employer have all been linked to poor mental health.

This is the time when mentoring needs to step in—or better yet, prevent. By making sure that people are made to feel welcome when they arrive and supported through a relationship that goes beyond the bounds of conventional professionalism, formalised mentoring programmes in the workplace aim to foster inclusion and a sense of belonging. The diversity balance of the company leadership is significantly changed by mentoring that includes both development and pastoral care, or emotional support. A 2016 Harvard Business Review study found that organisations with mentoring programmes that targeted particular identity groups had overwhelmingly positive outcomes, including an increase of 18% in the number of black women in leadership positions, a 23.7 % increase in the number of Hispanic women in those positions, and a 24 % increase in the number of Asian women in those positions.

However, organisations that are able and willing to support younger employees through their professional and personal challenges currently lack the necessary representation at higher management levels. White people continue to predominate the vast majority of professions, including journalism, finance, law, and architecture, as the UK lumbers towards The 2020 Campaign's objective of having no all-white executive boards of FTSE100 companies by that year. The pool of qualified candidates within an organisation is far too small because the burden of responsibility is frequently placed on mentees to "find" a mentor. For diversity mentoring to be effective, this burden needs to be reversed.

Transforming Traditional Mentorship

In an organization's hierarchical structure, a mentor typically holds a position of power in relation to the mentee. But we must rethink the power dynamics of these two roles if mentoring is to increase diversity, equity, and inclusion across sectors. Reverse mentoring uses a model of reciprocal exchange to achieve this reimagining. It is set up according to position in the workplace hierarchy and age, with the younger, less experienced employee teaching the more senior employee professional lessons and skills appropriate to their age group. Younger peers tend to be more informed about the most recent social and cultural trends, in addition to being more familiar with the technology that businesses use in today's fast-paced economy. Younger workers are also more likely than their older counterparts to be more racially and ethnically diverse and to have grown up in a more diverse, international world. The Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) in the United Kingdom is a pioneer in reverse mentoring, where employees from ethnic minorities teach their white coworkers about unconscious bias and racial stereotypes. Reverse mentoring programmes like FCO's enable the conversation and subsequent education to cross demographic boundaries and permeate the broader workplace culture.

Traditional barriers that prevent the advancement of racial minorities in the workplace can be overcome through reverse mentoring as diverse mentoring. Enhancing the traditional mentoring model's power dynamics fosters a sense of community and fosters closer relationships between coworkers. This human connection is what will make the future more equitable.