Mentoring programmes are a great way to support people’s development at work. And reverse mentoring goes beyond the traditional relationship. It can make people and organisations more equitable, diverse and inclusive at all levels.

In reverse mentoring, the mentor is earlier on in their career. Mentees are more senior professionally. It can be hugely beneficial if mentors are also from marginalised communities to share lived experiences. For example if you lack leaders who identify as disabled, consider disabled employees as mentors. Reverse mentoring is designed to give senior leadership different perspectives to their own.

A mentor and mentee meet once a month for 6 months as part of the scheme. It can be online or in person depending on needs and location.

What are the benefits?

The scheme builds two-way relationships. Both people bring valuable experiences and gain something beneficial.

During the scheme, the mentor shares insights and knowledge from their lived experience. They can give their perspective on what it’s like to work at the organisation. They can also share their experience of the leaders, culture and strategy.

In return, the mentee brings years of work experience and leadership. They can support the mentor’s career development. They can expose how decisions are made in senior leadership and can help demystify leaders.

A whole organisation can benefit from reverse mentoring schemes. Senior leaders’ decision-making should improve after gaining new perspectives. They should be better informed about more employees’ lived experiences. And if several senior leaders are mentored, it should help amplify marginalised voices. These can often be overlooked in traditional business hierarchies. All of these factors can help make leadership and the whole organisation more inclusive.

Things to remember

Build trust

Reverse mentoring can provoke vulnerability and sensitive conversations. People may be sharing personal details about their experiences. The relationship has to be a psychological safe space. There should be no judgement or expectations to share unless people are comfortable. Speaking more informally outside of the scheduled meetings may help to build the relationship.

Remember to only ask about someone’s personal life by invitation. And don’t share information about each other with others unless agreed.

You get out what you put in

It’s important for the mentor and mentee to prepare for each meeting. They should engage in each session and follow up on agreed actions. Allow space during the meetings for two-way questions. Participants should think in advance of what they’re hoping to get out of the scheme. Revisiting these aims throughout the process can help keep things on track.

Different experiences are essential

Senior leaders are ideally paired with mentors whose experiences don’t match their own. Which perspectives are they lacking? Which barriers do they need better awareness of?

Reverse mentoring shouldn’t create an echo chamber. It’s about listening to other experiences and being open to different perspectives. When it’s successful, it’s a safe platform for two-way advice and understanding.

What next?

It’s important to evaluate the mentorship. Before you start the scheme, think about how to measure success. Once it’s finished, pairs can work together on what went well and what could be improved.

At the end of the 6 months, decide whether to keep up contact or finish the scheme. Pairs could meet less often or more informally moving forwards. Or they might choose to finish the scheme and share lessons learned.

Reverse mentoring can provide valuable insights for all involved. It can change leaders’ understanding and improve the way they work with others.