The importance of reverse mentoring for businesses
In an exclusive interview, we spoke to Patrice Gordon, the Founder of Eminere and world-renowned executive coach focused on building inclusive leadership teams. Patrice told us about her career and what led her to set up her own business, why reverse mentoring is important for organisations, and much more.
How was it working in senior finance positions at British Airways, Royal Mail and Virgin Atlantic?
I thoroughly enjoyed it. Gaining my chartered accountancy with PwC was the best starting place for me. The pace and rigour of the training alongside large and complex clients really put me in good stead to lead practice and head into industry.
Pretty early on I realised that audit wasn’t my thing, but I really loved numbers, so I thought where could I work which would allow me to enjoy the subject matter? There was one clear answer for me: travel. From day one I loved it. I actually left for two years to join Royal Mail, but I came back as I missed it so much!
Can you tell us about your experience mentoring the CEO of Virgin on how to make the business more inclusive?
Craig (Kreeger) displayed both courage and vulnerability, acknowledging the potential richness that deep, meaningful conversations could offer. While I had heard of reverse mentoring, I had never been part of such a program. Being chosen as the inaugural mentor was both an honour and a privilege. The prospect of engaging in one-on-one dialogues with Craig was exhilarating, not just to discuss professional matters but to share my own lived experiences as well.
The aim was not to further my own career, but to foster a relationship rooted in a deeper understanding of someone like myself, a leader who is both Black and female. Our mentorship spanned several months, and it piqued the interest of many within the organisation, who were curious about the dynamics of this unconventional relationship and its potential outcomes.
For me, this experience underscored the importance of a leader’s mindset – specifically, a sense of curiosity and a readiness to instigate change – before embarking on such a transformative journey. Craig entered this mentorship with a well-defined purpose: to confront and challenge his own biases and to reevaluate his leadership legacy.
I found that while I was quite adept at discussing professional subjects, this unique setting required me to delve deeper. I had to articulate how certain formative experiences, which might seem inconsequential to others, had influenced my life choices. Moreover, I had to be candid about whether these experiences had acted as barriers or as catalysts that fuelled my ambition to strive for greater heights.
Do you think workplace inclusivity has improved or worsened in recent years?
The emphasis on inclusivity in the workplace has skyrocketed, evolving from what was once perhaps tolerated or overlooked to something that is now non-negotiable.
However, this newfound openness to express personal views can sometimes lead to challenging conversations, especially when opinions are polarized. It falls upon leaders to establish and sustain a psychologically safe environment where differing viewpoints can be aired respectfully and constructively.
What inspired you to set up Eminere?
Eminere is derived from Eminence, which means “fame or acknowledged superiority within a particular sphere.” This name was intentional. I have always been the encourager in the group, helping people to face their fears and lean into new experiences or stretch a bit further to achieve their potential.
I studied business management, specialising in accounting and psychology at university, and whilst I have a knack for numbers, I also really love people. I knew that I could have a career in finance and then move toward HR, but not the other way around. I rose through the ranks and got to the Finance Director level, and I realised that I wanted to lean into the psychology of people side a bit more, especially after operating at such a senior level for a long period of time.
I became intrigued with emotional intelligence and our ability to change our trajectory when we just focused on it. It was then I decided to complete my course with Barefoot Coaching and gain my post-graduate diploma in coaching. It was then that Eminere was born.
How different is what you’re doing now compared to working as a chartered accountant?
Very different! I always wanted to be at the forefront of business, I slowly stepped away from finance in 2018 and this move started my career within the commercial side of the airline. I led the Joint Venture contract with Delta Air Lines, Air France and KLM. Now I am running my own business, it all comes together – the finances, planning and execution of strategy.
Has the experience you gained as a chartered accountant been useful when running your own business?
Absolutely, the training I received was second to none – it provided me with grit and resilience. I am able to digest large amounts of information and make sense of things quite easily. In addition, being able to read accounts and understand contracts and business deals has been invaluable.
What is reverse mentoring and why is it important for organisations?
Reverse Mentoring is when a senior leader is mentored by a person from an under-represented background – by means of gender, age, ethnicity, and disability, to name a few. They become the novice and lean into their growth mindset to understand their biases and drive change when it comes to equity.
Given the diverse nature of organisations today, it is evident that leaders do not have the time to be an expert in all areas. Reverse mentoring is an impactful tool that allows leaders to learn from others, but most importantly it has the ability to impact change in the organisation by removing the formal levels of hierarchy and allowing unfiltered access to power.
How can businesses successfully start their own reverse mentorship programmes?
Step 1: Ensure an atmosphere of psychological safety
Trust is essential for psychological safety and organisational success. Data analytics can identify areas for improvement. High trust levels lead to greater inclusivity and productivity, enhancing overall performance.
Step 2: Nourish the leadership’s growth mindset
Before launching a program, leaders must understand both collective and individual expectations. While discussing mindset in terms of sales or operations is straightforward, grasping the complexities of mindset change is more challenging. Clear guidance on leaders’ roles and expectations is crucial.
Step 3: Articulate crystal-clear objectives
Before starting a reverse mentoring program, clearly define its objectives, whether it’s breaking down hierarchy, improving cross-generational teamwork, or promoting inclusive leadership. This clarity helps in setting effective evaluation metrics and holds leaders accountable for tangible results.
Step 4: Implement a scientific matching process
Effective mentor-mentee pairing is crucial for a program’s success. Instead of a casual approach, use systematic methods like machine learning or psychometric assessments for optimal matches. Pairing is based on program objectives, desired traits, gaps, and hierarchies, with mentors also evaluated on their history of culture-changing involvement.
Step 5: Facilitated training programmes, separately for the mentors and mentees
A reverse mentoring program aims to foster a sense of belonging and internal networking within an organisation. Training sessions often serve as the first proper introduction among participants. The cohort-based approach provides a trusted group for collective journeying, supported by formal check-ins and collaboration tools for ongoing communication and experience-sharing.
Step 6: Examine the bigger picture beyond individual stories
Personal stories can inspire change but shouldn’t be the sole basis for organisational transformation. Validate individual experiences with broader data and research before incorporating them into strategy.