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Reverse mentoring is part of a business continuity plan.
That's how Avery M. Blank, J.D., principal and owner of Avery Blank Consulting in Philadelphia, looks at it."It's about survival," she said during a panel discussion, "Reverse Mentoring: New Voices, New Visions," on Oct. 19. The panel was part of the 12th annual National Diversity Women's Business Leadership Conference at the Gaylord Resort at the National Harbor in Maryland.One way to get buy-in for a reverse mentoring program is to sell the idea as a problem-solving strategy for your organization, Blank advised.Reverse mentoring can take several forms—a tech-savvy younger employee mentoring a senior leader, for example, or a black woman mentoring a white man about diversity issues.Katherine Haight, director of learning and development, design, and operations at Target Corp. in Minneapolis, said diversity is the goal of her company's reverse mentoring program."We're asking diversity champions at lower levels [of the company] to mentor [people at the] upper levels," said Haight, who attended the conference session.Because the company's mentors initially lacked support about how to perform their roles, Haight started a group where mentors could share strategies on how to connect with leaders.[SHRM members-only toolkit: Establishing a Mentoring Program in Your Local SHRM Chapter]Reverse mentoring can be formal or informal, owned by HR or some other department, and designed to last for the long term or for the course of a specific project.Whatever form reverse mentoring takes, senior leaders must be behind it."You need a strong sponsor … [someone who] champions it," Blank said. Talmesha Richards, Ph.D., chief academic and diversity officer for STEMConnector in Washington, D.C. and one of the panelists, concurred. Her organization is a consortium concerned with science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) education. It is made up of companies, nonprofit associations, professional societies, STEM-related research and policy organizations, government entities, universities and academic institutions.There has to be at least one leader, Richards said, who encourages frank conversations around the organization's purpose and mission for reverse mentoring. An organization also has to be clear about what "mentoring" means. "There is a distinction between mentoring and [giving] feedback," said Minjon Tholen, another panelist. She is a consultant for Cook Ross in Atlanta. The Washington, D.C.-based organization is a female-owned consulting firm specializing in diversity, inclusion, cultural competency, leadership development and organizational change management. Mentoring "is meant to expand people's skill sets and networks," she pointed out.Panel members offered the following tips for a successful reverse mentoring program:
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