How “reverse mentoring” can help improve workplace diversity

Reverse mentoring puts higher-ups in closer touch with younger employees and produces better results than top-down initiatives

Young black woman explaining something on a whiteboard to her older white male colleague


Many companies try to increase diversity with earnest training sessions. It isn’t working. A study of data from more than 800 U.S. firms over 30 years, reported in the Harvard Business Review, found mandatory diversity training actually makes managerial ranks more white and male.

Ernst & Young’s London, U.K. office is changing executive attitudes with a combo of contact and mentorship. The firm’s reverse mentoring program puts senior partners under the guidance of younger female staff. Contact with women and ethnic minorities lessens unconscious bias, but since neither group is represented much in the upper echelons of business, it can be hard for executives to get that exposure—something not helped by the fact that many white, male higher-ups feel they don’t know how to talk to younger women or minorities. Reverse mentoring puts a face to a concept—it’s easier to ignore a slide show than the compelling young person in front of you.