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Why I am championing the Reverse Mentoring Scheme

Louise Foster-Key

In many respects I feel like one of the last people with the right to talk about diversity and inclusion. After all, I’m a white, middle-aged man, who has had the benefit of a state education and the opportunities that have followed.

However, there have been many times in my life when I’ve felt unfairly treated, forgotten and even worthless for being exactly who I am. Whilst I can’t pretend to know how others feel, particularly those on the receiving end of stereotypes and discrimination, the evidence is there for us all to see both in our history and in the makeup of our economics and society.

The fact is, through our societal “norms” it is so incredibly easy to accidentally, and indirectly, work against our desire for equality and inclusion. To give just one example, when we recruit to posts in a particular location and to work certain hours it is all too easy to tick boxes which result in talent being over-looked or indirectly put off or excluded.

To help avoid this, we must proactively ask ourselves questions like: Am I reducing the likelihood that people from particular communities will apply? Am I reducing the opportunities for women versus men, or vice versa? Am I assuming too much about the need for someone to be office-based?

Now the pandemic has helped turn some of those assumptions on their head. Indeed, Alex Chisholm said at this year’s virtual Civil Service live that “civil servants should work where they want to work”. This sort of change in expectation and language is a significant shift in helping remove some of the assumed norms that do, currently, limited our access to fully diverse talent.

Recent events indicate we need to renew our commitment to unconscious bias in our day to day work. It is no longer enough to simply be aware of unconscious bias, we all have a responsibility to be more proactive. This means actively becoming anti-discriminatory, and being better allies to all colleagues from all under-represented groups.

Now bringing this back to mentoring, as a leader in government (and across the GSG), one of our biggest assets is the ability to listen and change. Reverse mentoring is the perfect way to take advice and guidance from those in organisations whom, whilst hierarchically more “junior”, have a unique and powerful perspective on their lived experience. In other words, what’s it really like to be on the receiving end of this (my) leadership?

So far I’ve had several reverse mentoring sessions and spoken to colleagues in departments about what reverse mentoring is really about. It’s essentially about finding a safe space to talk, to listen, to ask those we most affect about the lived experience and then to reflect on the opportunity to try something different. I’m certainly gaining a lot from the experience.

So, I’m truly delighted to act as sponsor for the new GSG reverse mentoring scheme. As leaders, or as colleagues, this is a great way of looking at ourselves through the other end of the telescope. Change will come if we’re prepared to be made a little uncomfortable and act on what we see.

Jason Bradbury
Louise Foster-Key
Jason is Head of Profession at Ofsted and the Diversity and Inclusion Reverse Mentoring Champion.