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What I learned from a Reverse Mentoring partnership

Natasha Bance

Lilian Oluwakuyide and I were two of the many willing volunteers for the Reverse Mentoring programme. We were paired in October 2020 and met for the first time in November.

I had been part of a reverse mentoring relationship before. But this was different because of the aim to concentrate on diversity and inclusivity. Lilian and I agreed our aims and decided we wanted to talk about:

  • breaking stereotypes
  • encouraging better communication and understanding
  • providing support and career advice in a relaxed, informal environment
  • understanding what good diversity and inclusivity leadership looks like

Since then, Lilian and I have met several times. And I can share several important things I have learned.

What I learned as a reverse mentee

Firstly, how important it is to find ways for under-represented colleagues to ‘see people like me’. It was clear from our conversations that Lilian has found it hard to see herself represented in the senior parts of the Government Statistical Service (GSS). And she is right.

Representation does not look like our society and that needs to change. This applies to interview and recruitment processes and panels. But it also applies to what we see happening at the top of organisations. I sift and assess a lot of applications and had never thought to look at the diversity data from the application stage through to appointment. But the data matters to me much more now. I am more curious.

I looked at the diversity and inclusivity recruitment data for my division at Ofsted after speaking to Lilian. The data showed that our external adverts were attracting good and representative numbers of applications from underrepresented groups. But we weren’t seeing the same representative numbers in our appointments.

There are lots of reasons why that might be. One reason could be that internal staff have lots of business knowledge and experience, but they are historically less diverse. The important thing is to understand what is happening. If we understand the situation, we can raise awareness about the need to find ways to recruit more diverse staff. This needs to happen through our GSS apprenticeships and right up to our most senior staff.

Lilian also shared her experiences of times when she questioned whether she was being left out of conversations. This happened in organisations she worked for in the past and she wondered if she was being left out because of her ethnicity, gender, or some other reason.

Lilian gave an example about the number of times colleagues ‘liked’ or commented on her messages in Microsoft Teams. My immediate reflection was to ask “do I ever do that?”. Does it seem like I am favouring some people over others by choosing to interact with messages from certain people? Of course it’s not wrong to show what you support an what you ‘like’. But Lilian’s experience has made me think about how I can support all voices and opinions more clearly.

It has been hard to act as the mentee at times, particularly when Lilian has asked me to share my experiences. We ended up having more of a mutual mentoring relationship, which worked well.

A year on, I am delighted that Lilian has moved to the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA) on promotion. She is a tremendous person with great ideas. I hope she continues to feel able to share her thoughts and experiences. I have found her insights extremely valuable.

Taking part in a mentoring scheme

The Analysis Function (AF) are launching a new Mutual Mentoring scheme that combines ‘traditional’ mentoring with reverse mentoring. You can find out more about the scheme in our latest news article.

Jason Bradbury
Natasha Bance
Chief Statistician at Ofsted and reverse mentee.