Blog Post

ERG Spotlight: GSK’s African American Alliance’s Reverse Mentoring Program

February 19, 2019

The match between mentor and mentee is intentional and diversity is always a consideration. There is also a deliberate effort to arrange mentor/mentee partnerships across business lines to further expand the scope of perspectives that are shared. Through the reverse mentoring process, mentors and mentees share their personal experiences and perspectives, while respectfully challenging each other’s biases and assumptions. The pairs also discuss workforce and career advancement challenges facing employees. There are no strict guidelines governing when mentors and mentees meet, or what they discuss, recognizing that to achieve an authentic dialogue, participants need to establish their own comfort level and rules of engagement.

The company’s African American Alliance (AAA) has successfully leveraged the program to raise awareness among senior executives around issues impacting African American employees, both in the community and at the workplace. Through the reverse mentoring process, GSK executives learn more about cultural differences and influences, and how diversity impacts the African American employee experience, and the business overall. In turn, AAA members serving as mentors are provided an opportunity for heightened visibility and exposure to senior leaders outside their business unit and gain new insight to how decisions are made at the executive level. AAA ERG members also serve as sounding boards and confidantes to senior leaders who are faced with challenging I&D related scenarios. To date, topics have ranged from discussions about #TimesUp and Black Lives Matter, to how to support LGBTQ employees in countries where difference is not celebrated.

GSK’s diverse reverse mentoring program is open to all employees and is currently utilized primarily in the US and the UK. The majority of employees participating in the program as mentors are ERG members. To date, over 150 executives have participated in the program. The majority of employees serving as mentors have been ERG members. The program has provided a safe and structured environment for exploring different perspectives and fostering an authentic dialogue between employees and senior leaders. The relationships forged in the program have led to increased appreciation for diversity of thought, new insight to workplace and marketplace challenges, enhanced cultural competence, more inclusive leadership, and increased sponsorship opportunities for diverse employees.

Diverse Reverse Mentoring Adds Value

  • Increased leader commitment and support of ERGs
  • Better understanding of the business value and ROI of ERG work
  • Employee mentors are provided a platform to share their perspectives and insights around business goals, recruitment practices, talent management, and employee engagement
  • More authentic and inclusive leadership
  • Conversations initiated through the program unleashed more open and honest dialogue across the organization

“Through my DRM experience, I truly believe I have become a better, more inclusive leader who is constantly curious and wants to learn from others. It has helped me see things in new ways and created a very different type of conversation for me with my team and with other leaders in the organization. My mentors have given me the courage to do some things I would never have dreamed of doing previously and for that I am grateful!”
-Lisa Benna, SVP HR Pharma NA

“Having these important conversations as a group allowed for more perspectives and learning. Together we identified possible business solution ideas like on-boarding new employees as a longer term process vs. typical 30/60/90 day windows, creating broader mentoring networks, and creating more dedicated time specifically for I&D discussions focused on stakeholders. Our group was extremely willing to explore non-work issues as well so the whole experience has impacted me as a person, not just as a corporate citizen. I encourage employees at all levels to get involved in diverse reverse mentoring.”
-Matt Mazeffa, VP, Channel Development and Sales, Managed Markets and Government Affairs

Best Practice Tips

Establish a framework for the process. Offer guidelines for carrying out a reverse mentoring relationship, including suggested role and responsibilities of mentors and mentees.

Don’t limit what can be discussed. Allow mentors and mentees to determine what is important and appropriate to share and discuss. Suggested topics of concern and interest to the company can be provided, but the goal is to push participants outside their comfort zone, challenge assumptions, and learn from one another’s perspectives.

Keep it simple and make it safe. Don’t overprescribe the process. Encourage participants to meet at least monthly, preferably outside the office so there are no distractions or positions of power. This puts both participants on more equal footing.