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Exploring the Power of Reciprocal Mentoring

Ayo Barley, MD Bakare Barley & Professor Raphaela Kane, Pro-Vice-Chancellor for the Faculty of Health at Liverpool John Moores University.

Over the past 14 months, Liverpool John Moore University’s (LJMU) Executive Leadership Team has been paired with Black and ethnic minority leaders from across the Liverpool City Region in a Reciprocal Mentoring project.

The Reciprocal Mentoring Programme, developed by LJMU's Moni Akinsanya, Associate Director of Diversity and Inclusion and colleagues, began in 2019 as a small pilot between LJMU students and LJMU senior leaders, with the aim to transform the way the university understands and responds to the perspective of Black students within its community.

Moni Akinsanya, Associate Director of Diversity and Inclusion, LJMU at the closing session.

After the success of the internal Reciprocal Mentoring Programme, the external programme was developed with leaders in the city, to take the conversation outside of the university and into the wider community.

Ayo Barley, MD, Bakare Barley was paired with Professor Raphaela Kane, Pro-Vice-Chancellor for the Faculty of Health at Liverpool John Moores University with the aim of developing an open and trusting relationship, and the ability to have open and direct conversations about race equity, and actions that LJMU could take to make improvements for staff and students locally.

Understanding Reciprocal Mentoring

Reciprocal mentoring is a two-way street where both mentors and mentees have the opportunity to share their knowledge, experiences, and perspectives. It goes beyond the traditional mentor-mentee dynamic by fostering an exchange of insights, ideas, and skills.

This approach can take place in various forms, such as reverse mentoring, cross-generational mentoring, or diversity mentoring.

The beauty of reciprocal mentoring lies in its ability to bridge generational, cultural, and skill-based gaps, creating a rich learning environment.

How Reciprocal Mentoring Enhances Equality and Diversity Efforts Breaking Down Barriers

Reciprocal mentoring has the potential to significantly contribute to equality and diversity efforts within organisations. By bringing individuals with diverse backgrounds together, it breaks down barriers and promotes inclusivity. It allows participants to gain a deeper understanding of different perspectives, fostering a more inclusive and empathetic workplace culture. It must be planned sensitively, to ensure that both mentors benefit from the shared knowledge and experiences, and to avoid adding a 'diversity tax' to the mentor sharing their lived or professional experience in advancing inclusion.

Fostering Inclusivity

Reciprocal mentoring acts as a catalyst for change when focused on understanding, and informed action. It encourages open dialogue and mentors can discuss sensitive topics in a safe and respectful environment, fostering a culture of acceptance and constructive challenge.

Leveraging Diverse Perspectives

Diversity of thought is a powerful asset in any organisation. Reciprocal mentoring ensures that a wide range of perspectives are actively considered in decision-making processes. This leads to innovative solutions, better problem-solving, and a more competitive edge when catering for people from a variety of backgrounds.

Top Tips for Successful Reciprocal Mentoring

1. Define Clear Objectives and benefits

Before embarking on a reciprocal mentoring journey, it's crucial to define clear objectives. What do both mentors hope to achieve? Having specific goals in mind will help guide the mentorship and ensure that it remains focused and productive. Also, how will both mentors benefit, or be compensated in the case of requiring voluntary involvement.

2. Establish Open Communication

Effective communication is the backbone of reciprocal mentoring. Encourage mentors to have open, honest, and regular conversations. Create a safe space for sharing thoughts, concerns, and feedback.

3. Embrace Differences

Diversity is at the heart of reciprocal mentoring. Embrace the differences in age, background, and skillset, as they are what make this approach so powerful. Encourage participants to learn from these differences and use them to their advantage.

4. Foster Accountability

Both mentors should take ownership of their roles in the relationship. Set expectations for accountability and follow-through on commitments. This ensures that the mentorship remains a mutually beneficial experience and creates the changes that were intended.

Things to Avoid in Reciprocal Mentoring

1. Stereotyping

One of the pitfalls to avoid in reciprocal mentoring is falling into the trap of stereotypes. Don't assume that age or experience equates to knowledge, and don't let biases cloud your judgment. Approach each conversation with an open mind, growth mindset, whilst being humble.

2. Imbalance in Power

Maintaining a balanced power dynamic is crucial in reciprocal mentoring. Avoid situations where one party dominates the relationship or lacks time to engage fully in the programme. The goal is to learn from each other, and make time to listen and understand.

3. Neglecting Feedback

Feedback is a valuable tool for growth. Avoid neglecting feedback, both positive and constructive. It's through feedback that mentors can fine-tune their skills and develop professionally.

Empowering Individual Leaders Through Reciprocal Mentoring

Reciprocal mentoring doesn't just benefit organisations; it also empowers individual leaders. Here's how:

Broadening Perspectives

For mentors, reciprocal mentoring provides an opportunity to broaden their perspectives. They gain insights into the challenges faced by racially minoritised individuals, which can be invaluable in leadership roles.

Developing Adaptability

In a rapidly changing world, adaptability is a key leadership trait. Mentors who engage in reciprocal mentoring learn to adapt to new technologies, trends, and ways of thinking, enhancing their ability to lead effectively.

Building Inclusivity Skills

Leadership is not just about making decisions; it's about fostering an inclusive and diverse environment. Reciprocal mentoring equips leaders with the skills and knowledge to create inclusive workplaces that attract top talent.

In conclusion, reciprocal mentoring is a dynamic and innovative approach to professional development that has the potential to transform organisations and empower individual leaders.

By embracing diversity, fostering inclusivity, and promoting open communication, reciprocal mentoring can enhance equality and diversity efforts in the workplace. However, it's essential to approach this mentorship model with clear objectives, open-mindedness, and a commitment to balance and accountability.

When done right, reciprocal mentoring becomes a powerful tool for growth, benefiting both mentors and mentees alike.

The LJMU mentoring pairs with BBC Historian David Olusoga, September 2023

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