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Civil Service

Reverse mentoring: seeing things differently

Godfrey Atuahene Junior and Sarah Harrison
Godfrey Atuahene Junior and Sarah Harrison

To mark National Mentoring Day (27 October), Sarah Harrison, MBE, Director General, Corporate Services at the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS), and Godfrey Atuahene Junior, Senior Policy Advisor – Innovation at the Centre of Connected and Autonomous Vehicles (CCAV),  share their experience of reverse mentoring.

Mentoring is one of the ways people learn: 20% of our learning comes from coaching, mentoring and developing through others.

The relationship of a mentor and mentee can be incredibly enriching and empowering for both individuals, creating fresh perspectives, and have a lasting impact on a mentee’s career.

Most government departments have a variety of mentoring schemes available to staff. It is known that people are more likely to mentor someone who they feel an affinity with, rather than someone who is unlike them.

One of the benefits of a diversity-based reverse mentoring relationship is that it pairs people who might otherwise not come together. These relationships are often profoundly transforming for both parties and promotes a culture of inclusion in an organisation, where everyone matters.

In contrast to conventional mentoring schemes, reverse mentoring ensures mutual benefit to both the mentor and mentee. The mentee gains new skills and perspectives, the mentor gains valuable insights into company culture, values, business strategy and can tap into years of industry experience accrued by the mentee.

Godfrey Atuahene Junior says:

It was March 2019, and the FAME (Faith and Minority Ethnic ) Network – for which I am the Diversity and Inclusion Lead – had asked for reverse mentor volunteers. Although initially daunted by the prospect of mentoring someone more senior than myself and with more experience, I found the opportunity exciting, inspiring and decided to apply. 

Sam Balch of BEIS wrote a great blog on his reverse mentoring experience. This gave him the confidence to write the blog “Dear White People, we need to talk about Race”, which in turn led to action on talking about race at a BEIS Senior Civil Service (SCS) Away Day, and gave me the confidence to become a reverse mentor. 

Fast forward seven months, and I can truly say that I am enjoying reverse mentoring. It’s been an exciting experience. I have had the opportunity to share my ideas and observations, and made suggestions to improve Sarah’s understanding – and subsequently, the department’s – of the issues faced by Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic (BAME) members of staff and new starters within BEIS. I hope this, in turn, can lead to a more global understanding of these issues within the Civil Service.  

I was very nervous during our first meeting. After four meetings, my nervousness has disappeared. Now, I have candid discussions with Sarah regarding issues ranging from the strategy of BEIS (Shaping our Future) to diversity and inclusion, and more. 

At first, the conversations were a little uncomfortable for me, owing to Sarah’s seniority. However, I felt we built a trusting reverse mentoring relationship. I am genuinely impressed that Civil Service leaders are ready and prepared to listen to a diverse and junior view and take action on it. 

 What have I learned and benefited from through the reverse mentoring relationship?  

  • It has eliminated a fear of the unknown and increased my confidence and empowerment in communicating with senior leaders and stakeholders. 

  • I have gained a true insight into how senior managers think and work, and into the development of organisational improvement  

  • The opportunity to shadow and sit alongside Sarah at senior leadership team meetings has been rewarding, know that my contribution to the discussion is valued by senior leaders in highlighting diversity and inclusion points. 

  • ‘Speaking truth to power’ in a welcoming and safe space which could potentially make a tangible difference to the department.

I would strongly encourage everyone to take the opportunity to reverse mentor, because you can’t affect change if you don’t get involved. The learning, experience and opportunities gained are second to none. Different reverse mentor matches offer a wide range of perspectives.   

Sarah Harrison says:

I have benefited from working with reverse mentors before in previous organisations and now in the Civil Service. I value the chance to work with colleagues in a relationship of trust and to help get a 360-degree-view of the organisation, and to shape what I need to do more of and less of as a leader.    

I would really encourage anyone in the SCS to volunteer to be a reverse mentor – you’ll get such a lot from the experience.  

I was particularly pleased to be working with Godfrey. Our partnership coincided with the beginning of a conversation in the department about race, and Godfrey has helped me see things through his eyes and his personal experience.   

Early on we talked about his lived experience as a young black man. Although we all know that the data tells us that we need to go further in the Civil Service, the message is much more impactful when it’s linked to someone’s personal experience.   

Hearing Godfrey’s story has helped to improve my own self-awareness, and we need to look for more ways for stories like Godfrey’s to be shared. As the BEIS SCS Race Champion I represent the department across the Civil Service, and I am really proud to be able to share with other colleagues all the great work in BEIS to really move the agenda forward.   

There’s still a lot to do, but with the support of colleagues across the department, and individuals like Godfrey sharing their experiences, I know thay together we’ll be able to achieve a lot.   

Some of the more recent activity in BEIS has included:

  • Our first-ever BEIS Race Hackathon. This brought together a wide variety of people to collaborate in an intensive session looking at our particular challenges in recruiting BAME staff.  

  • Piloting an SCS Sponsorship Scheme for our G6/G7 women, BAME colleagues and people with a disability identified as either High Potential or Excellent. This scheme matches talented individuals from underrepresented groups with SCS sponsors who can offer advocacy and practical help with development to support career progression.  

  • Introducing a mandatory requirement to ensure at least one member on SCS interview panels is either BAME or disabled or both. This is part of a cross-Whitehall drive to improve diversity at senior grades.  

  • Creating a pool of over 200 independent panel members – a large proportion of them from BAME backgrounds – to support our recruitment processes.

National Mentoring Day was launched to recognise the significant benefits of mentoring across the world and takes place annually on 27 October.

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  1. Comment by Lawrence posted on

    Very inspiring story - one that I will be sure to explore/discuss with colleagues within the financial industry.
    Keep doing great things!

  2. Comment by Simon Wright posted on

    Hopefully a genuine exchange can allow challenging and identify where there are systemic problems that mean BAME and other staff miss out on opportunities.

  3. Comment by Marz posted on

    Great blog. Loved reading the journey for you both. It’s very creative to reverse mentor and be open to learn from each other. I am really excited to see where the future of reverse mentoring goes particularly for the more senior roles, as more BAME move into these positions

  4. Comment by Rhoan Bernard posted on

    I think mentoring is always good whether it is reversed or the usual form that we are use to. Keep up the good work Godfrey and Marian all can benefit from your insight on cultural differences and how this can boost the team.

  5. Comment by Stevan posted on

    This Is a great article. well done to you both.

  6. Comment by Jamila posted on

    Godfrey and Sarah -

    Thank you for taking the time to work with one another - developing the levels of empathy necessary towards diversifying our work places using the power of our experiences. Prior to reading this blog, I'd never heard of the concept of reverse mentoring; as an educator, I believe this model can be globally beneficial if properly implemented, supported, and executed in various spaces.

    In this "game," however, where we need race champions and hackathons, we also need more BAME players at the table. While at least one is a good start, two more can provide an even greater impact, while supporting the recognition and validity of our concerns being addressed.

    This work takes time, willing hearts, and companies devoted to true change. Thank you both, once again, for your openness. I hope this inspires other companies looking to make lasting and profound changes.

  7. Comment by NEIL COLLIN posted on

    Dear Godfrey and Sarah

    It is via these inspiring actions that you've set a pathway for others to follow. It's important to note that mentoring and the act of helping eachother become the best we can be is so important in our world.

    I wish you all the best and look forward to hearing more about how you continue to grow, and how it's expanding throughout the wider Civil Service Estate.

  8. Comment by Mark Butler posted on

    Thank you both for sharing your experiences of this initiative. It’s encouraging to learn how you have both gained mutual benefit from each other’s experiences. This is a model that that should be adopted more broadly in the workplace.

  9. Comment by Adrian posted on

    I have always been very sceptical about the effectiveness of the reverse mentoring scheme, as it seems to me that there is rarely any follow up at the end of the process. For example the SCS rarely talk publicly about what they had learnt from the relationship. Moreover, it didn’t appear to change their behaviours in any significant way. Consequently, I came to that it was just a box ticking exercise for many of them. It is so refreshing to see that both Sarah and Sam Balch have actually put what they had learnt into practice and have become champions of D&I in BEIS. Perhaps if significant achievements in the D&I sphere counted for more in the SCS recruitment process, more of the current crop of SCS would go beyond the mere box ticking.

  10. Comment by Romeo posted on

    Mentoring has been a super integral part of my career growth and development. Its super important that reverse mentoring happens in the work place as it’s one of the ways to help change the narratives and remove the labels placed on BAME professionals. When done right the impact can be immense.
    Well done to you both and I hope this becomes a model for other Organisations- public and private to emulate.

  11. Comment by Jonathan Izard posted on

    This is really inspiring - and actually rather moving. The ability to develop empathy and see the world through another’s eyes is a real skill and can be a truly transformative process in many different kind of contexts - personal, work and political.
    Thank you for letting us hear about your own experience and how it’s changed you. We can all learn from that.

  12. Comment by Marvin posted on

    Godfrey and Sarah,

    Such an insightful blog. Thank you both for sharing.

  13. Comment by Lee Townsend posted on

    Godfrey and Sarah,

    What a great blog, thank you so much for sharing your experience of Reverse Mentoring. It's experiences like this that shape and change cultures to truly make society and the world a better place, thank you for that, it will be great to see a part two in a year's time maybe?

  14. Comment by Peter Stevenson posted on

    Godfrey and Sarah, thank you for bringing attention to reverse mentoring and it’s benefits.

  15. Comment by Anuruddha Jayaratne posted on

    What a wonderful blog. I, like Godfrey and Sarah have benefitted greatly from the BEIS reverse mentoring scheme, through which there have been a great many benefits for my mentee as well as myself

  16. Comment by Darren Sylvester posted on

    Very insightful blog, Godfrey and Sarah. It is axiomatic that there is mutual benefit from reverse mentoring. On a wider level, the holistic advantages to an organisation when encouraging reverse mentoring can be huge.

  17. Comment by Tim posted on

    It was with great interest I read the personal experiences of both Godfrey and Sarah.

    Reverse mentoring when applied properly offers huge rewards both in the understanding and thinking strategies of individuals but also the wider business.

    Well done for taking this step and opening up a bigger diversity agenda.

  18. Comment by Gavin Thomas posted on

    Thank you Godfrey and Sarah for sharing with us your personal reflections on what I am sure has been a positive experience for you both.

    Not only does this help to create an inclusive environment but also provides the opportunity to increase cultural awareness. Something that I believe ALL Senior Leaders would benefit from.

  19. Comment by Noor posted on

    What a brilliant concept! I'd love to see more of this in other industries too. It's a great way of making workplaces more democratic.

  20. Comment by CHRISTOPHER MATTHEW CRENTSIL posted on

    Absolutely fascinating blog.

    Particularly interested in how this form of mentoring may help enable dismantle barriers around race, sexuality, and gender. I've not come across it until this read and it definitely seems like something which could be benefited from in many organisations (including my own).

    I wonder what the applications may be outside of the traditional workplace (voluntary sectors or healthcare) then also what that may be like.

    Also, I wonder if broadly speaking in the various care sectors if this could improve the relationship between service users and practioners.

    Thank you for sharing your experiences with us.

  21. Comment by Marjorie posted on

    Great blog on reverse mentoring, Godfrey and Sarah. It's very encouraging to know that many are looking to open up their perspective on cultural differences and start making changes in your organisation because of this awareness.

    It would be interesting and really good to see reverse mentoring in other industries as well.

  22. Comment by Graeme posted on

    Great reading the impact of such a scheme. As a person fascinated by culture and people's differences; would welcome this initiative to any organisation.

    Living much of my adult life abroad. I have been fortunate enough to experience the wealth of multicultural society first hand; one which I likely wouldn't if still living in the north of England.

    This is an amazing way to give others an opportunity to see cultural differences through the eyes of others and create better understanding of their lives, so different from their own.

  23. Comment by Gayle Davies posted on

    Wonderful to hear of such a successful reverse mentoring pairing. It can be a hugely powerful tool. Appreciate the Civil Service taking bold steps in the Diversity and Inclusion space.

  24. Comment by Bernadette posted on

    Fantastic blog Godfrey and Sarah.

  25. Comment by Manny posted on

    Godfrey and Sarah,

    It is great to see that you both actively participated in this scheme. It is clear that getting insight into others lives/experiences is beneficial on a work and social level- as you have both testified to.

    We just need more participants and good news stories like yours.

    Thank you both