When you think of mentoring, it’s easy to assume the mentor is the more senior person sharing their knowledge with the mentee, someone further down the corporate ladder. While this relationship can help a mentee further their career, there are different types of mentoring relationships that can benefit both the mentor and mentee in other ways too.
Hi, I’m Slinda (Sindy) Photay, a British woman from BAME (Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic) background working in an administrative role and I’ve been reverse mentoring Pete Schofield, a white, male Senior Civil Servant, for the last year.
Being a BAME reverse mentor gives another dimension to a mentoring relationship. You can help your mentees (normally senior leaders for reverse mentoring) to explore and improve their leadership style and ability to develop inclusive workplaces, by gaining new insights from colleagues working at different levels. It also offers the chance to promote greater intercultural awareness and interaction.
Initially, I felt a little nervous about meeting Pete, HMRC's IT Development, Testing & Operations Director, because you never know until you actually speak to or meet someone face to face whether you’ll click and be able to build a rapport. To benefit from reverse mentoring you have to have the sort of relationship where you feel you are in a safe environment as you need to be honest and remain focused and balanced at all times. You need to feel comfortable to make suggestions based on your own experiences of life outside of work and within the workplace, exploring cultural diversity and looking at practical ways to improve inclusion in the workplace.
I needn’t have worried about any of this with Pete - I soon realised that he was quite normal and very easy to talk to! This helped me to relax and be more honest in our discussions. I felt valued because someone at such a senior level made time for me and genuinely wanted to hear my views and opinions.
One stand-out moment in our mentoring relationship was when I learned that Pete had listened to me and taken my views on board in order to help a BAME member of his staff who had suffered a close family bereavement. Personally, I think that this shows how mentoring is taken seriously and that senior leaders have a genuine interest in learning from their mentees. Pete cared about his staff member's well-being and, by listening to me, he showed great empathy and openness to new ideas.
Reverse mentoring doesn’t take a lot of time, making it easy to keep on top of my day job. It has helped me to increase my confidence and use that new confidence in my day job. And, most importantly of all, knowing that I have helped a senior leader understand and appreciate another culture and then to see him act upon what we discussed is very rewarding for me.
I asked Pete if he’d like to contribute to my blog and this is what he had to say:
As a senior leader in HMRC it is so important to develop and continue to learn, so when I had the opportunity to do reverse mentoring I jumped at the chance.
For over a year Sindy and I have been working jointly and exploring what it means to be part of the BAME community working in the UK Civil Service. I am a white man, Sindy is an Asian woman. I thought I was a very open-minded and culturally aware person but, with Sindy’s amazing insight and coaching, I have learnt so much about how cultural diversity and differences outside work and in family life can affect how you work and what is expected of you. I had little idea of the expectations family and society place on Sindy and other women like her in their daily lives.
One particular member of my own leadership team recently went through the difficulties of a family bereavement, which is tough for anyone. This team member is an Asian woman and, with Sindy’s help and coaching, I was able to see what it means from a very different point of view. This allowed me to be a bit better at helping her through this very difficult time. I’d just like to say thank you to Sindy. We keep in touch and I am always indebted to her.
So, I would encourage anyone who has the chance to take up a mentoring opportunity to do it. It can help you in ways you may not be expecting.