Karmjit describes how reverse mentoring Paul Eagland allowed her a platform to voice her experiences and challenges as a BAME employee in a professional workplace and gave Paul the opportunity to hear those first-hand. These conversations have been invaluable when setting the firm's diversity and inclusion agenda.
It is a fact that unconscious bias exists in the workplace, BDO is no exception. How a person thinks depends on their unique life experiences. When it comes to people related matters, unconscious biases are in no doubt contributing factors to decision making within firms.
HR processes such as unconscious bias training help raise awareness of the issue, but we must challenge ourselves and ask the honest question ‘is this enough?’ And if it is enough, why is there still a lack of diversity?
The Black Lives Matter movement last year shed a light on the tough challenges faced by our black colleagues both within the workplace and in wider society at large. BDO held a series of discussions on this topic. Needless to say, it made people stop and absorb the gravity of what was being said in a way many of us had failed to understand before.
As a follow up to this, BDO launched a BAME Reverse Mentoring Pilot. This provides the opportunity for leaders in BDO to get to know employees from varying backgrounds to listen to their experiences in the workplace. The aim is to educate through open conversation.
Matched with the head of BDO, Paul Eagland, a series of one-to-one meetings were held over a six-month period. Varying topics were discussed including missed opportunities as British Airways cabin crew, an enlightening visit to a retail bank as a teenager, entering the accountancy profession not truly knowing what it was, breaking barriers with family lunch buffet displays and so much more. The most important element in all these discussions and experiences (as random as the topics sound) was that they helped to shape where we individually stand in our careers now and what the learnings were along the way.
Paul and I both agree the sessions were not easy. We challenged each other with emotive topics to get to the heart of the agenda, yet we looked forward to sessions and did not miss one! We had a commitment that they were a ‘safe space’ we entered with an open mind, accepting we may not be word perfect in our engagement or that there may be no right answer. It was a forum for both education, reflection on what more could or couldn’t be done as a firm and how action should be taken and how. Importantly we followed up with each other, recognising real change needs action, perseverance and an ongoing dialogue.
A summary of the benefits of BAME reverse mentoring include:
Benefits for senior mentees:
• By gaining a better understanding of what it is like to be a BAME employee in BDO, mentees can become change agents and have the ability to influence wider leadership and challenge unhelpful practices
• Reverse mentoring provides a tangible opportunity for leadership to “walk the talk” when it comes to inclusion, directing culture change through the organisation
• Being reverse mentored improves confidence through building awareness about experiences and barriers faced by BAME colleagues
• By having proximity to wider experiences and differing perspectives the mentees can have a broader and further learned insight to support bold decisions in line with our strategy and values
• Mentees learn things about themselves, how they can apply a different lens to a situation and develop their ability to lead diverse teams.
Benefits for junior mentors:
• Allows the mentor to become an agent for change, and provides an opportunity to shape diversity and inclusion issues
• By taking part in reverse mentoring, mentors gain visibility as role models to other BAME employees
• Mentors broaden their network by building mutually beneficial relationships with senior leaders
• Reverse mentoring is a unique knowledge sharing opportunity, providing mentors with a unique insight into leadership roles.
Reverse mentoring helps to challenge ingrained views on what talent looks like, break down stereotypes and biases, get fresh perspectives and help improve diversity in middle and senior grades.
We recommend those in leadership positions who want to try something new (and help ensure the success of diversity initiatives) set up a reverse mentoring programme. At a time where many firms are strengthening their Diversity & Inclusion ambitions, we must not lose sight that behind these numbers are people with real experiences. The real impact will come from personal engagement and commitment to people and experiences – the numbers will then follow.
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