KPMG’s reverse mentoring scheme, launched earlier this year, is all about pairing partners with black heritage colleagues, so those working at more senior levels can truly understand the challenges those from diverse backgrounds face in the workplace.
Instead of being focused on career progression, this is mentoring with a bit of a twist! It’s much more about improving diversity and inclusion within teams, offices, and the overall firm.
Accountancy Age and HRD Connect chatted to KPMG’s I&D senior lead, Edleen John, about how the scheme is going so far and what impact it will have on the culture at KPMG.
What is reverse mentoring?
It involves us enabling more senior employees to gain insights and understanding from some of our more junior employees, about their experiences, learnings and day to day life at KPMG. However, it’s atypical, it’s not like the usual mentoring where someone more senior imparts their wisdom and knowledge to somebody more junior. It focuses on the more junior employees imparting their knowledge to the more senior individuals; sharing information about their background, who they are and what it’s like working here at KPMG.
How did the scheme start?
A pilot was kicked off last year, in the summer, with a smaller subset group based on feedback from our Afro-Caribbean network and our employees about their experiences and how we could better engage the partner community to help us build a more inclusive culture. Then after the pilot program we got lots of really positive feedback and colleagues saying that it is a really great initiative and we should formalise and professionalise the program. So we kicked off with the formal version of the program earlier this year in March.
What’s your involvement in the scheme?
I’m responsible for leading the diversity team. The pilot was really driven out of the Afro-Caribbean employee network and they invited us to go along and hear how the pilot had gone, and shared the fact that the feedback has been really positive. We required more resource to roll this out more broadly and make sure we are engaging with as many people as possible across the firm so I have partnered with Kathryn Gomme in our UK Learning team to look at how we could better structure the programme, formalise it, make sure we had sufficient budget to roll it out effectively, and then publicise it and get more people on board. Together Kathryn and I oversee everything that relates to the program, and then from a budget perspective it all comes out of the I&D space.
Why do you think the reverse mentoring scheme came about in the first place and why is it so important?
As a firm we understand that some of our diverse colleagues in the organisation don’t have as much direct exposure to partners on a day to day basis because of the very nature of the type of work we do and so we realised there could be a disconnect between what partners think the culture in the organisation is like and what those at more junior levels are actually experiencing day to day.
We wanted to focus on working out how we can bridge that gap and create a culture of inclusion and we realised that while one way is by just running a training program, with our team saying to colleagues ‘this is what our diverse colleagues tell us’, actually a better, more impactful way to do this would be for them to just hear directly from those colleagues in a way that will build a sustained relationship over time.
We recognised that one of the key benefits was that it actually put junior colleagues in contact with quite senior people which they may not have worked with previously – this additional exposure has proven beneficial not just to their day to day jobs, but also with regards to specific skills needed on individual projects. So it was a way of also creating a form of traditional mentors or sponsors.
Can you share any specific examples of results or experiences of people who have been on the scheme?
One of the partnerships in the pilot program included our managing partner who was being mentored by a more junior colleague in the organisation. Those individuals have been able to share very effectively how it has changed the way that they view the organisation, the way they view people at different levels, and their exposure to the different types of work at KPMG. They now understand the ins and outs of a partner and more junior role and the opportunities this type of mentoring can open up for both of them.
One of our junior colleagues spoke to us about the fact that his perception of what partners are doing on a day to day basis is very different from what he discovered when he sat down with a partner and asked what types of things they are doing. The variety of work that the individual was doing was very different from what he thought.
Similarly our managing partner talks very fluidly about some things that he had never considered, being a white middle class man in this organisation. He had just never thought about the fact that when a black heritage junior employee goes into a meeting room, they might be the only person of black heritage in there. How does that affect how they are able to bring their full selves to work, do they have to actually think about it in a way he has never had to before? That was something he wasn’t necessarily aware of before doing this program.
Do you think these conversations with partners will motivate junior employees to aim higher?
Absolutely. It gives them insight into what being in a partner role involves, as well as creating a relationship whereby the junior individual can feel like partnership is a real possibility. It also gives them a chance to increase their network and exposure within the firm, which is of huge benefit.
The junior individual in the pair we have already spoken about, since engaging in that mentoring relationship, he has really reflected on what it is he wants to be doing within the organisation. He has now changed teams and changed roles, and realised that actually he can have bigger aspirations than perhaps he might have done before.
Long term, what’s the overall aim of the reverse mentoring scheme?
Our goal is to review the program on an ongoing basis, getting feedback from both the partners and the more junior employees but the hope is that we will be able to roll out additional cohorts on a six monthly basis to expand the program and outreach across the organisation and also across our various UK offices. We do have mentoring pair now across the UK and we want to increase and expand that, but do it in a measured way where we can best support the individuals as well. So additional growth is basically what we want to achieve.
Has anything a bit unexpected happened since the scheme has been rolled out? Has there been any unusual viewpoints?
I don’t think anything unexpected has happened, I think we had a lot of partners who were willing to be put forward and volunteer – initially we didn’t think we would get as many as we have had. Because it is currently just Kathryn and I rolling out this programme, we did have to control how big we made it for the first cohort to make sure we could do it successfully. We’ve had a really positive response, with increased levels of engagement from the partners who have got mentors, so nothing unexpected in that sort of way, but just a lot of learning at both ends of the organisation.
Do you think reverse mentoring has a good impact on overall wellbeing?
I think so, for a number of reasons. Reverse mentoring often challenges the hierarchy and power relationships within an organisation. For a lot of people it’s the first time where somebody more junior is actually, in many ways, driving the relationship. It also has a positive impact on wellbeing because it allows more junior employees to feel that their voices are being heard by more senior colleagues, giving them more power to affect change.
So it has a real positive impact because you see subsequent action which enables you, as an employee, to be more engaged in the firm, to believe in the firm but also to actually to see your own career aspirations potentially coming to fruition by virtue of that. I think for the more senior employees it also enables an increased connection with how the firm is actually working on the ground which can be really beneficial.
I think often when you’re more senior and may have been in the organisation for a long time, your experience is very different to somebody coming into the organisation today. Things you maybe take for granted in terms of the culture, must be continuously reviewed, so this type of engagement has a really positive impact in terms of that as well.
Do you think reverse mentoring has given junior employees a sense of empowerment?
I absolutely do, I think it’s enabled junior employees to feel a more of a sense of belonging to the organisation and feel like their voices are being heard, and to also build up a sense of community. As it’s a group of people who are all on the program at the same time, they are able to build up a broader network of like-minded employees than maybe they would have had exposure to before. Similarly through the various networking events taking place, even though they all have a direct mentor or mentee, they also have additional exposure to other partners so that’s been hugely positive.