By Jai Thade, Head of Content
Because humans are innately social creatures, workplace relationships can be a powerful medium for learning, changing minds and bridging gaps.
Amongst the varied forms of workplace relationships, an important one to highlight is that of Mentoring. Mentoring refers to a relationship where an individual provides perspective, guidance & support to another, less experienced individual.
The process of mentoring is not a monolith, it can take different forms. One form of mentoring that In Diverse Company has found to be very effective when it comes to enhancing all forms of inclusion is that of Reciprocal Mentoring.
In traditional mentoring, there is a clear difference in roles between a mentor (who provides mentoring) and a mentee (who receives mentoring). In Reciprocal mentoring, both individuals are equal partners in the process – the roles of ‘mentor’ and ‘mentee’ are not fixed, and the mentorship provided is not one-sided. Both partners can learn from each other. They both set mutually agreed-upon goals, to which they both hold each other accountable. They both provide encouragement and feedback to support the other’s progress.
What are the workplace contexts in which this approach to mentoring is useful to deploy? Because of its equitable nature, it is instrumental in breaking down hierarchical & cultural barriers, dissolving prejudice & bias, and building empathy. Thus, this mentoring arrangement can be especially useful when pairing employees from backgrounds that are different from each other. This difference could be age-based, gender-based, cultural, ethnic, religious, etc.
For instance, even in the conventional pairing of a senior, experienced employee with a junior, less experienced employee, reciprocal mentoring can create different results from regular mentoring. Both parties can use it as an opportunity to empathy-build & view the world through the eyes of another person, thus building a broader perspective.
Younger employees can use the opportunity to develop leadership skills, build confidence to pursue career opportunities and gain perspective from the wealth of knowledge, wisdom, and experience that their older colleagues offer them. They can also better understand organisational dynamics and how to manage them.
Older employees can use it to understand the lived working experience of younger employees – what drives them, motivates them, and what they have to offer – perhaps not in terms of experience, but in terms of raw talent that can be honed and cultivated to groom them into being better professionals and to meet the needs of their organisation. They can utilise suggestions they receive from their younger colleagues to make more informed decisions about altering policies, processes, and protocols. These decisions can better take into account the experiences, needs, preferences, and aspirations of their younger colleagues.
Because it is an even more equitable partnership than regular mentoring, Reciprocal mentoring can thus be powerful at bridging age gaps in the workplace.
We are passionate about this approach because we have seen its results. In our experience with clients across the globe, we have seen Reciprocal Mentoring programmes pay great dividends – from inspiring leaders to create policy changes, to helping catalyse employees’ career development.
Another way we are engaging with the issue of age in the workplace is through our research collaboration with Randstad India. We are exploring the phenomenon of age-based discrimination in the workplace – how it manifests for different age groups, its impacts, and what can be done about it. You can find more information about this here.