How to Create a Successful Reverse Mentoring Program to Promote Gender Diversity



While women make up about half of the college educated workforce in the US, they comprise only 29% of science and engineering jobs.[1] This percentage continues to drop further into leadership ranks within these fields. Due both the pipeline problem, as well as other career and social barriers, most senior managers in the tech industry tend to be men. This past year, the percentage of women CEO's of Fortune 500 companies fell to 4%.[2] Current managers can promote gender-inclusive leadership through a variety of methods such as shifting workplace culture and through an understanding of individual perspective. This perspective can be gained through establishing a reverse-mentorship program between a new hire and upper management. This post offers practical hands-on steps for both mentor and mentee.

Overall Benefits

There are many reasons to compel organizational leaders to build gender-diverse teams and learn from those who are different than them. By establishing a reverse-mentorship between two parties who have a genuine desire to learn and share, both grow through the process. Managers are in a unique position to create gender-inclusive environments in the workplace and can drive this organizational progress by engaging in dialogue through a reverse-mentorship.

Benefits include:

•      More creative teams as diverse teams are more creative,

•      Business value based on the makeup of the customer base,

•      An understanding of how to better attract and recruit top talent,

•      Empowerment of emerging and established leaders,

•      Closing the knowledge gaps for both mentor and mentee,

•      Private and personal education for both mentor and mentee,

•      Generational and gender understanding to build inclusive culture.

Benefits to mentee (older)

This is a big investment for senior leaders. Tradeoffs might include strategy planning sessions, board meetings, product reviews, HR discussions, and other important meetings. However, it’s important to explain how and why meeting with a new hire can change the culture of the organization, improve productivity, and deliver bottom line results. Namely, a better understanding of what it’s like to be a new hire helps uncover an unconsidered perspective. Senior leaders will also come to find that the younger mentor can be an incredible confidant and test bed for organizational policy and health.

Some of the experiences of the mentee include:

•      Learning from the experience of the (younger) mentor including tech and social trends,

•      A better understanding of gender and generational differences in technology such as culture, values, motivation, skills, and processes,

•      Receiving feedback, active listening, guidance on leadership skills,

•      Being able to ideate about organizational policies and practices and how would they be received by someone inside of the organization,

•      Spreading learnings amongst peers,

•      Receiving important network and contact.

Benefits to mentor (younger)

To the mentor, the younger new hire, a meeting like this can be intimidating, yet also provide an opportunity to have impact. The relationship will also provide an opportunity to learn more about how strategy is developed and how teams work together.

Some of the experiences of the mentor include:

·         Allowing the mentor to have a bigger impact,

·         Access to strategic thinking of senior leaders,

·         Reminding mentee to listen carefully,

·         Encouraging the mentee to share new knowledge with the organization,

·         Learning about other areas and departments in the company,

·         Increasing executive presence of mentor and strengthening interpersonal relationship skills,

·         Providing important network and contact opportunities.


The following set of guidelines were built through the actual practice and lessons learned from a reverse-mentorship. Allow these to be guiding principles in establishing a mentor-mentee relationship.

·         Clearly define expectations

o   Must include commitments from both parties

o   Critical to have regular 1:1 meetings set in mentor’s office

o   Mentor and mentee should not be in the same management chain

o   Hour-long monthly meetings are recommended

o   Summary mail from mentee (useful for tracking progress and impact as well as maintaining continuity across meetings) is recommended

·         Lead with mutual respect and understanding

o   Establish trust with honest discussions

o   Stay open-minded through the process

o   Work to overcome differences in communication

·         Be willing to iterate

o   Commit to a long term mentorship—results are not necessarily immediate

o   Understand that this is an evolving relationship

o   Make note of what works and what doesn't—what is useful for some mentors and mentees may not be for others

Suggested discussion topics

In order to steer the direction of the first few meetings away from traditional mentorship roles and conversation topics, here are a few topics for discussion:

•      Gender and STEM - barriers you've experienced/noticed, implicit (i.e. subtle behaviors) or explicit instances of discrimination, ways this has or has not manifested itself in your company

•      What role "having an impact" plays in workplace motivation

•      Views on work/life balance

•      Team culture's effect on productivity – what does or does not work

•      Expectations about career progression

•      Workplace discourse – especially related to gender

•      Gender and STEM – what it was like in school

•      Gender and STEM – what it's like in your company

•      Stories of diverse teams

•      How to build trust

•      How to be empathetic

•      What's new in the world (mentor’s list)

•      What’s new in the company (mentee’s list)

•      Social channels and presence

•      What making an impact feels like to the mentor

•      Why mentor would stay – or leave this company

•      What the world of work looks like in 5,10,20 years

•      How does tech influence human good

•      What are your views on ethical computing, big data

•      Corporate social responsibility and why that is important to mentor

•      How can tech serve social good

•      Views on privacy

•      Research on employee trust leads to customer trust leads to shareholder loyalty

Measuring success

There are some short and long term metrics that would signify a successful mentoring relationship.  Once this takes place, traditional metrics covering recruiting, interviewing, hiring, retention, and inclusion will apply.

Here are some metrics to keep in mind:

•      More inclusive organization culture (particularly mentee’s org),

•      Mindset shift (a-ha! moment, did the mentee learn something surprising),

•      Broader day-to-day perspective for mentee and mentor.

Next Steps

Try a pilot in your organization. If you are an HR professional, find a senior leader you support who is willing to spend 6 half hour sessions over the next six months on a pilot. Then find a new hire you support, and set up a pilot with a half hour 1:1 meeting, in the mentors’ space and see what transpires! And please, let us know your learnings….


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