Leadership Academy

Reciprocal Mentoring for Inclusion programme


The Reciprocal Mentoring for Inclusion programme is a systemic leadership development intervention designed to create transformational change and enable a culture of diversity, equality and inclusion, where the power of difference is valued.

Reciprocal mentoring provides opportunities for individuals from under-represented groups (such as BAME, LGBTQ+, disability) to work as equal ‘partners in progress’ with senior executive leaders in a relationship where knowledge and understanding of both sides of lived experiences creates awareness, insights and action that directly contributes towards the creation of a more equitable and inclusive organisation where the factors that generate inequity are positively and proactively addressed. This programme is a powerful enabler that can change organisational norms and traditional culture, one conversation at a time.

Through this programme, our ambition is to create a space where every senior executive director within the NHS, enters into a reciprocal mentoring partnership, ‘partners in progress’, with someone from an under-represented group within their organisation. By doing this, we can enable a social change where those from under-represented groups are able to take the opportunity to become ‘partners in progress’ with senior executive leaders to dismantle systemic barriers which marginalise underrepresented groups, to shift the underlying culture to one where the power of difference is respected and valued, and where prejudice and unconscious biases are challenged to benefit the system.

Programme participants are drawn from senior leadership boards and colleagues from underrepresented marginalised groups. We do this because:

  • Our colleagues from underrepresented groups face the greatest impact and challenge as a result of systemic discrimination. The outcome of this work will be contributing to an equal, inclusive and diverse system for ALL including those from underrepresented groups.
  • We need powerful partnerships between those that hold positional power to influence peers and decision making at board level (senior executives) and those that can illuminate where we need to change through their lived experience (colleagues from underrepresented groups).

Through personal insight, we expect to see changing behaviours starting at board level which translates to action and systemic change, permeating every part of the system.

What exactly is Reciprocal Mentoring for Inclusion?
Reciprocal mentoring is a development that learns from the models of traditional mentoring and reverse mentoring but is not the same. It is important to understand the difference between this model of mentoring and others to ensure you are selecting the right development opportunity.

In the reciprocal mentoring approach:

  • Mentoring pairs are equal partners in the process of learning from each other and the relationship is reciprocal in nature, rather than one side of the partnership holding the power found in other models of mentoring.
  • The ‘partners in progress’ will support and enable each other to shift their shared understanding and awareness into powerful action, championing change, influencing peers and informing decision making through the organisation together, rather than one side of the partnership responsible for taking action.
  • This approach to mentoring focuses on systemic transformation as well as change at an individual level. The emphasis on other mentoring models is creating shift at an individual or team level rather than system wide – reverse mentoring can only take us so far.
    Reciprocal mentoring is about understanding the lived experiences of each other to connect at a human level and create trust for a strong foundation working as ‘partners in progress’.
  • Reverse mentoring can sometimes cause the mentor (from an underrepresented group) to re-live the trauma of their lived experience without any guarantee of anything changing other than the mentees understanding of them as an individual. This can feel ‘risky’ for the mentor with the mentee not having to show the same level of vulnerability or risk taking and still holding the positional power in the background. Reciprocal mentoring ensures the vulnerability and risk is shared equally, with accountability for mobilising learning into ‘joint’ action, within the partnership.

Programme benefits:

What are we trying to achieve?

We have all learned significantly over recent months through our collective response to Covid-19 and the devastating disparity in impact on our BAME colleagues and vulnerable members of our community. Black Lives Matter has created a heightened global awareness and action for social justice in tackling inequality. We have all been through huge changes both personally and professionally, coming together in adjusting to ‘new ways of being’ and as a result, many of us don’t want to return to the ‘normal’. This programme takes a different approach and is very ambitious – we need to be in order to address the challenges we are facing. It requires genuine commitment and a call to action from all that participate as ‘partners in progress’. The programme won’t always be easy, it will require participants to embark on a journey of discovery and commitment to change, together, that can be uncomfortable at times. Not everyone will be ready now or will want to be a ‘partner in progress’ and that is ok – we all have a wider role in contributing towards a culture that is inclusive, diverse and equal for all.

Benefits for participants from underrepresented groups:

  • Building a partnership with someone at board level and working in alliance to change the system for the better
  • The opportunity to tap into the experience of ‘partner in progress’ e.g. career advice, lessons learned, development opportunities (networking and shadowing) in order to progress their leadership development, raise their profile and accelerate their career aspirations
  • The ability to directly contribute to the critical work required within the system to enable greater levels of inclusion and diverse representation from marginalised groups within senior leadership teams
  • Observing and discussing board activities and the ways in which politics and power works
  • Better understanding of the ways in which power works at a conscious and unconscious level
  • Greater awareness of self and systems through the relationship that is formed
  • Confidence in talking to and challenging power and influencing peers within their own networks
  • The chance to learn from other organisations as each cohort will be partnered with another organisation to support and learn together

Benefits for senior executive leaders:

  • Challenge from a different perspective
  • Evidence of a high standard of leadership – role modelling leadership behaviours
  • Enhanced ability to be a more effective agent of change
  • Increased understanding of the ways in which their behaviours, beliefs, policies and practices impacts upon the lived experience of people within their organisation
  • Helping challenge beliefs and behaviours with peers and influence decision making
  • Motivating peers to take action that really makes a change for underrepresented groups
  • Learn from other organisations as each cohort will be partnered with another organisation to support and learn together
  • System benefits:
  • Improved retention of our talented staff from under-represented groups and breaking down barriers for them to progress into the hard to reach senior leadership roles
  • Attracting more diverse talent to join the NHS
  • Contributes to the delivery of:
    • The NHS People Plan
    • Our NHS People Promise
    • The Building Leadership for Inclusion Strategy
    • The Leadership Compact
    • The Workforce Race Equality Standard
  • Developing strategies that more effectively counteract the ‘invisible’ and ‘unconscious’ ways in which the exercise (and abuse) of power negatively impacts groups of people in the NHS.
  • Uncovering ‘hidden’ needs and using power in ways that practically generate greater equity
  • Developing allies that work collaboratively for change
  • Leadership behaviours that reflect commitments for greater equality, diversity and inclusion
  • Encouraging a culture where people feel able to take the initiative and speak to power in ways that are productive and effectively transformational
  • Learning from other organisations as each cohort will be partnered with another organisation to support and learn together adding to a richer ‘reciprocal’ learning experience
  • This intervention is complimentary to any other programme of work to improve EDI and we work closely with organisations to ensure the outcomes are aligned to the organisational EDI strategy