A few weeks ago, I signed up at work to “reverse mentor” a member of the executive team. The advert from the Chief Executive read
“Could you be my mentor? We are looking for enthusiastic, passionate and committed mentors (working in any role at any level) who would like the opportunity to build a relationship with a senior leader, to share their diversity story and help create a more inclusive workforce.”
and I thought ‘I could do that.’ I signed up and was successful. A week or so ago, I went along to my training session with eighteen or so other trainee mentors.
Reverse mentoring flips the power balance on its head. It means that a person further down the ladder (a receptionist like me) mentors a person with more perceived power. But the difference with our particular type of reverse mentoring, is that is focuses on Equality and Diversity within the NHS.
Staff survey results always show higher bullying rates and more dissatisfaction among black and minority ethnic (BME) staff, those with a disability and those who identify as something other than straight. Part of what reverse mentoring does, is gives leaders an insight into what it is to be a diverse member of their organisation. An organisation where, in many cases, the board is made up of middle class white men. Where I work is slightly different, though as our Chief Executive is a woman and so are many members of our board. It is still exclusively white, however.
One of the first slides our trainer – Stacy Johnson, Associate Professor at the University of Nottingham. -showed us was this, and it definitely struck the right chord. Excuse my mad scrawling…
The point of this being that providing reasonable adjustments as in the second image is all well and good, but the idea should be to remove the fence altogether, rather than making people able to see over it. To remove the fence, we have to identify what it is made out of and remove it piece by piece. That’s where Reverse Mentoring comes in.
The RACE model for Reverse Mentoring encourages mentors (the person perceived to be less powerful) to commit acts of resistance in order to inspire acts of compassion, empowerment and solidarity. The aim is to change the narrative around diversity and make somebody not only walk in your shoes, but see the world how you do. It’s about talking about every day diversity situations openly and challenging someone in power about what they are doing to change the narrative. It’s also about having a safe space to discuss challenging situations and issues.
I came out of my training session massively empowered and with a whole load of things to think about. By the time my first session came around, though, I had massively crashed and burned. I have so many things that I COULD talk about, as a straight-appearing, gay, married woman with a child and a long term health condition. I just did not know where to start.
I had stalked my mentee a little bit on LinkedIn – she’s the Chief People Officer in my organisation and has a very overwhelming CV. I have to admit that I was a little intimidated, but I also expected the two of us to be very different. Last week we had our first meeting, which I had planned absolutely nothing for and we treated it as a “getting to know you” session. I was surprised to see that we are actually pretty similar and we got on very well, which I figured could present a problem because how am I supposed to challenge her beliefs if they are basically the same as mine?
My mentee wants to be challenged, so I’ve come up with some very challenging stuff for our next meeting. Examples that are taken from my life as a band two admin within the NHS. The way I’m looking at is that she has never done a “bottom of the ladder” job, so I’m going in on that for the moment. This quote rung very true with me.
So, that’s how the reverse mentoring is going up to now. I’m excited for the next five meetings and I hope that I – along with the other reverse mentors in my organisation – can play a small part in making our little corner of the NHS more inclusive, more diverse and more inclusive. Reverse mentoring is just the start!
I’ll be tweeting about our meetings and some of the things we discuss, so if you don’t follow there already, you can find us at @mamaedenandme.
Slides produced by Stacy Johnson & University of Nottingham