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Listening Deeply and Responding Genuinely: Towards Inclusion in the Workplace

Today we are seeing more and more companies publicly stating their intention to expand diversity and inclusion efforts in the workplace. These statements come in many forms, but generally center around a desire to beef up their strategies, and ensure that Black, POC, LGBTQ, and other minority employees feel heard and valued. While this is a praiseworthy end goal, there has been some criticism levied at D&I practices that are one-off, or tokenizing – and do little to change the long-term culture.

Making diversity and inclusion an indelible part of your organization’s culture means putting resources towards non-exploitative practices that make room for conversation, build genuine relationships throughout the company, and lead to system-wide, sustainable change – thus attracting the next generation of values-driven talent.

I’m a fan of one niche strategy that establishes clear and replicable parameters for communication and culture change – reverse mentoring. This refers generally to the practice of pairing younger employees with more established leaders, either for technological knowledge transfer (early-career employees may have more knowledge of the newest systems) or to create cultural bridges – giving newer employees agency to share their experience of the workplace, career pathways, and the development opportunities available to them. If implemented properly, reverse mentoring can be a powerful tactic to expand inclusion in the workplace. Here’s how:

The Benefits of Reverse Mentoring For Building Inclusion & Transparency

  • Senior leadership will have opportunities to get feedback from newer employees through open and genuine conversation, creating valuable space to learn how employees are affected by company practices and culture.
  • Reverse mentoring means that knowledge transfer doesn’t just flow in one direction – employees across all levels have the opportunity to add value based on their skill set and career experiences, without being singled out to speak only on diversity-related topics.
  • When upper management is interacting regularly with early-career employees, decision-making becomes more transparent, with opportunities for fielding questions and addressing concerns. Leadership doesn’t stay silo-ed away making top-down decisions.
  • The relationship building that happens through reverse mentoring creates opportunities to identify and develop emerging leaders, thus creating new pathways to move diverse voices into senior management.

A company that practices deep, purposeful listening across all levels will move towards a culture that’s inclusive by design. Giving early- or mid-career employees a voice, access, and space to pass knowledge directly to senior leadership will create more opportunities for policy change that addresses the varied needs of diverse workers – such as flex time or family support policies.

The next wave of talent will be looking to join an organization that practices what they preach. This means that your inclusion efforts can’t be event-driven, or reliant on burdening one class of employee to fill knowledge and diversity gaps in your organization. Your company’s practice must be sustained and inclusive at every level. The benefits will be ten-fold, from giving employees an empowered voice in company strategy, to giving senior leadership access to the on-the-ground organizational culture. Instituting a reverse mentoring practice, thus allowing for deep listening to happen on a regular basis, can be a cornerstone of your inclusion strategy.

Success Labs is a leadership development and management consulting firm in Baton Rouge, Louisiana. For more than 25 years, our expert team of consultants has worked with hundreds of companies to grow leaders, build teams and drive results through great people strategy. Contact us to get proactive about expanding your company’s potential.

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