Tuesday, May 07, 2019

Experienced professionals have as much to learn from the younger generation in the workplace as they have to teach. African law firm Bowmans is harnessing the techno-savvy and other new-generation skills that young people have through its Reverse Mentorship initiative.

Reverse mentorship gives younger professionals and executives who are more senior the platform to engage with one another about their experiences, challenges and perspectives, and to share new ideas openly.

The initiative was launched in June 2018 as part of the firm’s focus on the development of female leaders, and saw Bowmans’ senior leaders being paired with female millennials to engage on topics such as technology, social media and current trends. This initiative is a follow-on from ‘Accelerate’, the Women in Leadership programme that was launched last year.

Lee-Ann Greyling, Group Organisational Development and Learning Manager at Bowmans, says the aim of this initiative is to enable senior leaders to benefit from the diverse perspectives available in the firm, as well as to help them gain insight into individual and generational career aspirations, perceived barriers and differing views on how a leading, women-empowered African firm should look today and will look in the future.

John Bellew, head of Private Equity at the firm, says he has benefited from the experience so far. ‘I have had good and challenging chats with my mentor. She has provided me with insights on how black professionals think and how they see the firm. She also keeps threatening to drag me into the digital age, but so far I have resisted!’

Tori Herholdt, partner in the Litigation Practice, says the discussions with her mentee have been rich.

‘We are still finding our groove but the conversations have become easier after starting out a bit formally,’ she says. ‘We used our first discussion to exchange views on what we wanted to get out of the discussions and come up with conversation topics for each meeting. This has made it a little easier as I have been able to consider the topics in advance and even, where appropriate, do some pre-reading’.

According to senior associate Noxolo Ntombela, through the open discussions that were held, she and her mentee were able to highlight and assist each other in understanding not only the glaring difference in their journeys, but also the ‘not so obvious’ cultural contrasts. ‘Notwithstanding the dissimilarities, I believe it is possible to find common ground by working together in achieving a united goal for the firm,’ she says.

Managing partner Alan Keep says that he really enjoyed participating in the initiative, and felt enriched by hearing and understanding the different perspectives in the firm and environment in which Bowmans is operating. He adds that this guidance has definitely made him feel better equipped to do his job.

‘The participants have had four conversations and there are two more conversations to go as part of their six-month journey. It does not require a lot in the way of new processes, just the ability to match up employees of different generations and then encourage each team to meet regularly to exchange ideas and challenge each other.  Mentoring relationships shouldn’t be restricted to people of the same gender or who have similar backgrounds – because there’s much we can learn from people who are different from ourselves,’ says Greyling.

Tammy Beira, the firm’s Talent Partner, is excited about the opportunities that this initiative creates.  Diversity of perspective is key to stimulating innovation and creating a culture of inclusion and creativity. Reverse mentoring creates the platform for a diverse group of employees across generations to engage deliberately and to share fresh perspectives and to diminish stereotypes. It gives younger professionals the opportunity to develop professionally and to understand the value they can bring.