Reverse mentorship: changing roles to change perspectives | Deloitte Netherlands

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Reverse mentorship: changing roles to change perspectives

Leaders mentored by their employees are leaders growing as humans

Candid conversations are crucial for an inclusive culture. That’s why we introduced the Reverse Mentorship Program , a program that allows leaders to learn from employees with an underrepresented background what it’s like to work at Deloitte. ‘It’s all about being aware of your own biases,’ says ceo Hans Honig, mentored by Fatima El Barkani.

For some, the existence of discrimination or systemic bias against women or other groups of underrepresented people can be hard to accept, because it violates the notion that the world is fair and just, and that meritocracy prevails in the workplace. Having conversations with people who have other experiences than you, can help realize reality has multiple facets. Moreover, it’s a great way to involve everyone in the discussion – including those who are referred to as the ‘dominant’ group and may feel unfairly treated.

To increase inclusion at our firm, the Executive Committee started the Reverse Mentoring Program. In this yearly program, Deloitte leaders are mentored by a colleague from one of our underrepresented groups. Goal is to improve knowledge and sensitivity of our leaders to the challenges these colleagues face every day in the workplace. We started last year with cultural diverse mentors, but will expand this year with mentors from all our diversity groups. Because, as our ceo Hans Honig says: ‘It’s all about paying attention to the differences and being aware of our own biases. Not only in cultural background, but also in gender, neurodiversity and sexual preferences.’

Gaining awareness

Reverse mentorship allows senior leaders to better understand the personal and business case for inclusion & diversity. Leaders are pivotal when it comes to creating an inclusive culture, as their behaviors and mindsets reverberate throughout the organization. But just having to follow a policy doesn’t necessarily make you committed to diversity. People tend to be blind for their privileges and often lack awareness of inequality. Gaining greater awareness of group-based disparities is a critical step in enlisting their support for company initiatives to promote workplace equality and inclusion.

One of the biggest blocks to inclusion is bias. Biases are commonly defined as a preference for or against a person or group compared with another. Some are conscious, but mostly they are implicit, cognitive biases caused by our brain that likes to think in stereotypes. It’s almost impossible not to be biased. It is a human tendency to make judgements based on first impressions and preconceived ideas. Or, in other words, people just have an easier time recognizing talent when it comes in a package that looks like them. Awareness is a first step towards avoiding the exclusive behavior that often results from bias. Reverse mentorship allows leaders to empathize with employees who differ from the norm, and to learn about their own biases.

Growing as humans

It’s also a great way for our diverse colleagues to share their experiences in the work environment in a candid and safe space. When Fatima El Barkani, senior consultant at Deloitte Tax & Legal and mentor of Hans Honig, was asked to participate in the program, she did not hesitate. ‘It’s always good to create awareness. After all, it’s the little things that can make someone feel at home in an organisation or within their team.’ She never expected to be matched with the ceo though, she admits laughingly. ‘Still, our conversations are very open and confidential.’

Of course, it may sound odd: employees mentoring their leader. Normally, it’s the other way around, with leaders sharing their knowledge and experience with juniors so they can grow and climb the corporate ladder. But the goal here is not for anyone to climb the ladder. It’s to share stories and dilemma’s so people grow as humans, and thus as a leader. And as Fatima experienced: ‘Talking to leaders about possible biases is powerful.’

Her mentee is also very enthusiastic: ‘When I check my calendar for upcoming appointments, I always get energy when I see our meeting noted,’ says Hans. ‘Not only can Fatima teach me a lot about cultural biases, taking a walk and talk is just fun.’

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