Mentoring is a process where a more experienced person supports the learning of a less experienced person. It is not a teaching or instructional relationship, but rather is one in which the mentor helps the mentee reflect on their ideas, experiences and issues at work, and supports them in finding a pathway to progress. The mentoring relationship relies on high levels of trust so that anything relevant can be discussed including anxieties, aspirations, problems and potential solutions. While discussing the day-to-day experience of work can be important, it is also important to focus at a higher level, thinking about the future and bigger goals.
Reverse mentoring has the same ethos, but reverses one crucial element. Rather than a more senior person mentoring a more junior mentee, the colleague who is more junior mentors the mentee who is more senior. The reason for this is that the senior person will be less experienced than the junior colleague in something they crucially need to understand.
Equity, diversity and inclusion is an area in which is it particularly important for leaders to learn from colleagues who have different life experiences, and who experience the organisation in a different way to leaders who have perceived positional status. Challenges with positions of perceived status include that the people who occupy them can become insulated from the experience of most people, information can filtered and it can be difficult for colleagues to express what they really think. Reverse mentoring creates a safe space for the mentors to explain to the senior mentee what is really going on in their experience, and it is a safe space for the mentor to discuss and listen about things they don’t know and are uncertain about. It is an opportunity for the mentee to try to see organisational life through the eyes of others and to take action as a result.
In Middlesex University, in the region of 29% of staff come from minority ethnic backgrounds, around 16% of professors and senior staff are from minority ethnic backgrounds, there are members of the Board of Governors from minority ethnic backgrounds, but the University Executive is not ethnically diverse.
Reverse mentoring for understanding and action on racial discrimination and prejudice includes:
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