Setting-up Race Reciprocal Mentoring Programmes

Today is I Am a Mentor Day, an annual celebration marked in January in honour of mentors who play a vital role in people’s lives. As someone who has set up numerous race reciprocal mentoring programmes, I want to focus on the virtues of this type of mentoring.  

2022 was hailed as the year of mentoring in the UK by several HR publications. We can’t deny that the pandemic has played a pivotal role in changing the way people work. From working at home transitioning to a more hybrid and agile way. In 2023 we have seen the challenges with staff retention, cost of living and a record number of vacancies.

Mentoring can be a game changer for small business owners and entrepreneurs, where it can be extremely lonely. I was lucky enough to take part in Santander UK Business Banking Breakthrough Women in Business Leaders’ Programme last year. It was great to have someone to touch base with and talk about challenges with.

How can we define mentoring?

A mentor could be anyone in a position with experience desired by a mentee (the person they mentor) who can offer them advice and support. Mentors support mentees through formal or informal discussions about how to build skills, qualities and confidence for career advancement. Mentors help mentees by sharing their own hurdles. They may give mentees suggestions on how to expand their network.

Mentoring involves creating a safe space for a powerful conversation to take place. Mentors will need to listen actively and attentively, as well as be aware of their own perspectives. They will provide reflective insights with the aim of personal development, and are likely to help mentees reframe their perspectives. Helping their mentee identifying quick wins and opportunities.  

How can mentoring help?

Anyone who has taken part in a mentoring programme or relationship will often state that it is one of the most beneficial things they have done for their career and personal development. A mentor can help us navigate challenging situations, provide advice and a sounding board to work through things.

Interestingly, mentoring and career progression go hand in hand. Mentoring is one of the top go to initiatives for workplaces. Mentoring has also proven notably valuable to help assist and guide individuals looking to make career transitions. Whether you’re a mentor or mentee, it’s equally as beneficial for your career.

Mentoring Statistics

  • 76% of people think mentors are important, but only 37% have one. [Forbes]
  • People with mentors are happier at their current jobs than those without. [Forbes]
  • People who served as mentors experienced lower levels of anxiety and described their job as more meaningful than those who did not mentor. [HBR]
  • Most people opt for same-sex mentors (69% women, 82% men). [Forbes]
  • 84% reported that mentoring relationships provide two-way inspiration for the mentor and mentee. [Women Ahead]
  • Mentors were promoted six times more often and mentees were promoted five times more often than those not in a programme. [Wharton]
  • Cornell University’s School of Industrial and Labor Relations found that mentoring programs boosted minority (Global Majority) representation at the management level by 9% to 24% (compared to -2% to 18% with other diversity initiatives). [Forbes]

Types of Mentoring

We often think of mentoring as someone who is more senior mentoring someone more junior within an organisation. However the rise of reverse and reciprocal mentoring schemes have shifted the options available.

This table highlights the differences in traditional, reverse and reciprocal mentoring.
(Adapted from a comparison of types of mentoring summarised from Harvey, McIntrye, Heames, & Moeller, (2009)

Why reciprocal mentoring?

Listen to this podcast episode: Reciprocity in a mentoring relationship (21 mins)

Reciprocal mentoring has gained popularity in UK higher education over the last five years due to the race equality charter mark. We know that plans, policies and procedures don’t often lead to action and there is a need to do something more tangible across all sectors.

It is a positive way to understand the lived experiences of underrepresented staff. I have designed, developed and delivered race reciprocal mentoring programmes for City UniversityLiverpool John Moores (LJMU) and the charity Place2Be.

It’s also easy to involve senior leaders in reciprocal mentoring programmes. There always seems to be a will to get involved. Organisational peer pressure plays a part here, if everyone else is doing it, then we need to have a programme too!

Research on reciprocal mentoring has been found to:

✅ Attract, retain and engage high performers

✅ Upgrade employee skills and knowledge

✅ Foster a collaborative environment

✅ Promote diversity of thought and style

✅ Develop leadership talent 

✅ Develop a line of succession

✅ Preserve institutional memory

✅ Create inclusion

Source: HRPA Metro Toronto Research by Helen Patterson and Lauren Charbon

Why race reciprocal mentoring programmes?

As I mentioned above, race equality charter marks and accreditations have meant there is more willingness for many organisations to create these programmes. There has also been accountability from Boards in corporate organisations to see a shift in data and numbers of Global Majority staff in senior positions.

The Black Lives Matter Movement of 2020 meant that many workplaces wanted to do something tangible. These schemes provide ways to enable white majority groups to understand how Global Majority staff have to navigate a particular workplace. It is a way to make space for change and move things in the right direction. There is also a positive news story this brings that can be shared widely both internally and externally.

Impacts of race reciprocal mentoring programmes

My experience of running race reciprocal mentoring programmes has shown an enhanced ability to be a more effective agent of change through hearing lived experiences. An increased understanding of the ways in which behaviours, beliefs, policies and practices impacts upon the lived experience of staff who face barriers.

It can empower white mentors to challenge beliefs and behaviours with peers and influence decision making. As well as motivating peers to take action that really makes a change for Black/Global Majority staff in the workplace. Thus leading to developing strategies that more effectively counteract the ‘invisible’ and ‘unconscious’ ways in which power dynamics can negatively impact Global Majority/Black/Diaspora staff.

The mentoring conversations that happen uncover implicit thinking. Programmes have the power to reduce organisational hierarchy through personal connection. One of the biggest benefits I see is removing fear around language and “getting it wrong”. Openness to talk and address inequality is key to making real change in any organisation. This in turn encourages a culture where people feel able to take the initiative and speak to power in ways that are productive and transformational.

Finally, lasting change is realised through concrete legacy projects that happen beyond the length of a six-month programme. There are also connections with local communities to broaden impact. This was the case at LJMU.

How to create race reciprocal mentoring programmes

Firstly, ensure buy-in and a project sponsor to get the ball rolling straight away. Be very clear about the criteria and the nature of reciprocity, which equality strand/protected characteristic. Don’t bite off more than you can chew!

Provide easy ways for staff to express and interest and get involved. If you have forms make sure they are as easy as possible to complete. Inform participants how the matching will take place.

Training is vital as are check-ins half-way through the programme to make sure everyone involved is getting what they need. As part of the training provide parity documents so a hierarchical power imbalance is less likely to creep in.

At the end celebrate the success together, have an event to mark the end of the programme! Consider legacy as opposed to one-time pairing and the results of a reciprocal mentoring initiative will continue to blossom.

Want help to set-up a race reciprocal mentoring programme?

If you are a business leader and to set-up a race reciprocal mentoring scheme in your workplace get in touch with me to find out more.

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