The Results: How Reverse Mentoring Can Enhance Diversity and Inclusion

October 11, 2011 - 2 Comments

Back in April this year I wrote a blog about a programme we drove in Europe last fiscal year called Reverse Mentoring, where a senior employee is also mentored by the junior employee. All of our 31 mentors and 31 mentees have now reached the end of the programme and I’d like to share with you their feedback – what they enjoyed, what worked well and what we can improve upon in the future.


Shared Learning – Most mentors and mentees felt the programme was valuable and they walked away having a greater understanding of another team inside of Cisco, how it operates, what drives the team for success and the challenges that organisation faces. For some people, the value was talking to someone who had worked at Cisco for a much longer period than themselves and learning from their experience; for others it was getting a completely different perspective from someone outside of the organisation looking in.

Honesty/Respect – Many people said they enjoyed having an open and honest exchange of ideas and best practices. Mentors felt that their feedback was valued and well received which encouraged them to be as honest as possible. Some people founding physically stepping outside of the organisation helped them to get a more rounded perspective.

Relationship – Quite a few people said they enjoyed getting to know someone who they wouldn’t have normally engaged with at work who gave them a completely different perspective. This wasn’t just about “talking business” but actually spending valuable time getting to know someone and understanding the challenges they face.

Continuation – The official programme lasted for 6 months and after 6 months mentors and mentees could decide if they wanted to prolong their reverse mentorship. It was great to find out that quite a few people have decided to do this. Unfortunately we don’t know the exact numbers but I think this is a great sign that the programme was a success.

Top 5 Areas to Mentor

We asked our mentors to tell us which areas they mentored their mentee on and these were the results:

1.)   Communication and style was the most popular area this year. Some mentors looked at how their mentee communicates with his/her team and how inclusive their behaviour is. We had quite a few mentors sit in their exec’s team meetings and analyse them from an Inclusion and Diversity perspective. Some mentors reached out to their mentee’s teams and got feedback on how they communicate and areas for improvement which they fed back to their mentee.

2.)   Cultural knowledge – Quite a few people “tested” their executive about how well they knew their team, particularly in terms of their different cultures and languages, and encouraged this as an avenue for an exec to connect to and collaborate with his/her teams but also for team members to do the same with one another and also a channel for the team to connect with their customers.

3.)   How to be a better leader? This was a very popular theme for this year – what makes a great leader? What does success look like? Where Cisco Services is heading and what is the role of that Executive on that journey?

4.)   Relationship with Team – Many mentors looked at how their mentee could use Inclusion and Diversity to a) connect to their team, particularly those that are remote, and b) to encourage their teams to participate in meetings and discussions. Other mentors looked at how their Exec could encourage their teams to practice inclusive work habits to build relationships with their team members and relevant stakeholders.

5.)   Change Management – Cisco has been through a huge amount of change in the past couple of months and this was a popular discussion topic for mentors and mentees. Some mentees were managing a new team and wanted help with connecting with that team; some mentees were managing teams that had been personally affected by the workforce reductions; some wanted to refresh how they engage with their team from a fresh perspective.

Other topics included work-life balance, how to juggle a family and a career and how a senior woman is perceived in a circle of senior men.


An overwhelming percent of our mentors and mentees thoroughly enjoyed our programme, so much so that they not only wanted to participate next year but also gave suggestions for how we can improve the programme when we next launch it:

  • Have a few suggested topic areas for mentors to discuss with their mentees and suggestions around how to measure success
  • Most mentors and mentees felt the relationship worked well when they could connect from a business perspective (in a similar organisation, worked together in the past) and wanted us to double check this before we assigned mentors to mentees
  • Ensure that new hires participate in this programme as this is a great way to learn about Cisco
  • A voluntary group mentoring session / round table for all mentor-mentee tandems who are open to disclose their mentoring relationship and their areas of focus

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  1. whoah this blog is fantastic i like reading your posts. Keep up the great work! You already know, many individuals are searching round for this information, you could help them greatly.

    • Hi Moda,

      Thank you so much for the positive feedback! If you have an I&D story you would like to share on the blog, please let me know!