Major companies like General Motors, Target, and UnitedHealth have been implementing reverse mentorship programs for over 10 years. These relationships allow leaders/senior managers to connect with junior colleagues and really get a pulse on what’s going on in their organizations. Reverse mentorships are mutually beneficial – they enable leaders to make more informed decisions and provide junior-level employees with a greater sense of belonging. Trust and innovation flourish when the crossing of corporate strata is a part of any organization’s framework.
How much more powerful could these relationships be, then, if they were based on more than placement on the organizational chart? With nearly 90% of Fortune 500 companies being run by white, male CEOs, how much more inclusive would workplaces be if they developed reverse mentorship relationships with the women they seem to have nothing in common with – women of color.
Black women in this country hold a special place and understanding of inclusivity. We’re not white, not male, and we don’t have an immigrant community support network. The experience we’ve earned through breaking down barriers to gain footing in professional environments is invaluable. Most of us have a passionate, intellectual understanding of injustices and can provide thoughtful solutions.
On the surface, it would seem there’s no intersectionality between the white, male CEO and the black female executive at all. Here’s what’s fascinating – I have had the most impactful, intellectual conversations with cis-gender white males who are trying to understand how to create a more inclusive world. From multi-millionaires to new business owners, they want to show up in the world better than their forefathers.. These industry leaders present as authentically nice people who want to learn in earnest, and are eager to listen; which is a pivotal first step. That willingness allows us to establish trust and create a “safe space” to ask questions, be coached, and learn.
When organizations are willing to focus their reverse mentorship programs on diversity and go deeper than surface level, there’s great potential to break down walls, improve workplace cultures, and anchor sustainable change.