man demonstrating to female coworker in reverse mentoring session at the office

Can Reverse Mentoring Programs Build Inclusive Workplaces?

Diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) in the workplace has never been more important. Top business thinkers have made the case for years that diverse workforces drive innovation and financial success, with real results to back them up.

However, recent events—including the global pandemic, which has vastly altered the way we work, and a global movement focusing on racial and social justice—have increased the urgency to make workplaces more diverse and equitable. Creating an inclusive workplace culture has evolved from a “nice to have” to a business imperative for many business leaders, according to researchers from The Wharton School.

In addition to the proven innovation and business benefits, organizations that build an inclusive culture foster a sense of belonging among their employees, increasing engagement and retention. This represents a valuable advantage amid today’s “Great Resignation,” in which millions of workers have quit their jobs in the aftermath of the pandemic.

young black female employee presenting to older white colleagues in a conference room

Barriers to Inclusivity

However, even with a sense of urgency and the best of intentions, achieving an inclusive workplace isn’t always easily or quickly done. Transforming a corporate culture requires overcoming legacy obstacles that can be deeply ingrained.

Feedback loops

One such obstacle is a dysfunctional feedback loop in which valuable feedback is stifled. This can be because those at the top of the hierarchy aren’t listening, those lower down don’t feel comfortable honestly expressing their feelings—and often, a combination of both. In addition, many workplaces don’t have a working mechanism to facilitate healthy feedback within the organization.

Unconscious bias

Unconscious bias—social stereotypes about groups that people may not even be aware they hold—is another culprit that can sabotage efforts to be more inclusive. Decades of research have shown that unconscious bias has a real-world negative impact on fairness and diversity in hiring and many other domains.

Retention issues

Recruiting for a diverse workplace is only the first step; retaining diverse employees is equally important, and the two go hand in hand. Poor retention of underrepresented groups can pose a vicious circle. The more that workers within these groups exit an organization because of bias or lack of belonging, the less support other members of such groups may feel, leading them to leave as well.


What is a reverse mentoring program?

While reverse mentoring is often used to help older employees get up to speed on technological advances, it may be even more valuable in transmitting cultural understanding among different generations or people of different backgrounds within organizations. Junior employees can learn from their senior mentees’ experience and better understand how the company works as a whole, while senior employees learn about current trends, gain the advantage of fresh perspectives, and have the opportunity to better understand younger generations.

Despite wanting to see a more diverse representation of people at all levels of global corporations, the facts show organizations still have a long way to go when it comes to improving inclusivity in the leadership pipeline. So until then, companies should turn to strategies like reverse mentoring that can build inclusive communications and inspire a diversity of ideas that will help pave the way for inclusive workplaces in the future.

How reverse mentoring programs can build inclusivity

Reverse mentoring fosters feedback that might normally be stifled by offering direct access between people of different positions and experiences. It breaks down stereotypes by giving both mentors and mentees the chance to get to know each other as real people. And it fosters cross-organization networks and connections.

Reverse mentoring can even more directly contribute to inclusivity by pairing senior employees with junior employees who can share unique perspectives on racial and diversity issues. Organizations such as Linklaters, PwC, and The United Kingdom’s Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) have all implemented reverse mentoring programs with the specific goal of building diversity and inclusion.

With the right intention and execution, reverse mentoring can help create an inclusive workplace, where workers of all positions and backgrounds feel a sense of belonging, believe in a shared mission, exercise empathy for each other—and commit to working on a shared future.


Learn how the Chronus platform can help you launch an impactful reverse mentoring program.

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