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Learning about difference: a conversation with Yinka

Learning is different nowadays. For one thing it’s now a lifelong endeavour, not something that stops when we leave the school gates for the last time. And because we lead busy working lives, it’s stepped out of the classroom to become increasingly digital, bitesize and on-demand.

We’re also realising the value of learning different things too. Not just hard, or even soft skills, but an understanding of other people’s different life experiences. Things that aren’t so easy to get across in an online course.

Our Black, Asian and minority ethnic reciprocal mentoring programme recently opened for its third cohort. The scheme pairs senior leaders in the organisation with more junior colleagues from Black, Asian and minority ethnic backgrounds, and allows them to mentor each other.

I spoke to Yinka Fadina to find out more. Yinka – a Senior Audit Manager in Internal Audit – is the Global Co-chair of our Multicultural Network, who run the reciprocal mentoring programme, and the Co-lead of our Banking on Racial Equality taskforce.

A two-way street

‘Reciprocal mentoring is almost building a bridge,’ she tells me. ‘It’s connecting people who may not typically engage in their day to day responsibilities of their job. And it’s bringing those different people together, different backgrounds, different experiences, different levels in the organisation, and providing them a platform to engage with each other and learn from each other.’

That “learning from each other” is what makes reciprocal mentoring so valuable in Yinka’s eyes. It’s vital that senior leaders learn about the experiences and obstacles facing less represented groups. But it shouldn’t only go one way, and Yinka wants to make sure the junior party is enriched as well.

‘For me one of the biggest things was the reciprocal part. You do have reverse mentoring where someone like me explains to someone more senior about what it’s like to be black, or about my experiences. But in reciprocal mentoring, it’s a partnership and the junior person in the pair gets to hear how they might navigate their career from someone who is a senior leader and who has clearly had a successful career. There is something special in that learning of how to navigate your way through the organisation. To learn some of those unwritten rules and rules of engagement, and how to progress your career and fulfil your potential.

‘For a senior leader, they get to speak to somebody that is independent of their business area, where they can ask any of those questions that maybe they were conscious could be taken in the wrong context. So they have the opportunity to ask those silly questions without the fear of offending somebody, and really learning about those lived experiences.’

The long game

Reciprocal mentoring is now a key tool in our inclusion approach, with great buy-in right at the top of our business – 40% of our Executive Committee took part in the 2020 cohort. ‘Senior leaders generally really understand the benefit of being involved in such a programme, and people want to learn,’ Yinka confirms. ‘I think it’s not by chance that we’re a learning organisation, I think there’s a lot of people in the organisation who are thirsty to learn new things and have new experiences.’

But maybe the most important long term benefit will be for the junior colleagues in advancing their careers and improving on our inclusive culture. To challenge and measure our inclusion progress, we set a target of having 14% of our most senior roles held by Black, Asian and minority ethnic colleagues by 2025. Today we’re at 10%, compared to 8% when the target was set. For junior colleagues today, being involved in reciprocal mentoring could be a crucial step in reaching more senior roles and helping that number to climb higher.

‘They get the chance to sit down with a senior leader and potentially have a career conversation, get some advice, get some guidance. Just hearing about a senior leader’s career journey can be inspiring, can invoke some actions that you potentially want to take. There may be opportunities to expand your network, and really think about what that next opportunity looks like for you. I’ve also heard of people on the programme getting CV advice, help with interview preparation or identify actions to make their team more inclusive. There’s lots of benefits for both parties.’

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