How reverse mentoring drives inclusion
Patrice Gordon is someone I really look up to. She is an incredible champion of diversity and inclusion at work, as well as an author and an executive coach. Patrice worked with us at Virgin Atlantic and spearheaded some brilliant projects including the airline’s first graduate apprentice scheme, the Springboard programme for women’s development, and an industry-leading reverse mentoring programme.
The programme has been an amazing driver of inclusion and belonging at work, as it gives leaders the chance to walk the walk, and to do it in someone else’s shoes. For anyone unfamiliar with the concept, reverse mentoring is when employees from underrepresented or marginalised areas of society mentor a senior leader or manager in the business. Virgin Atlantic’s programme came as a direct request from the airline’s former CEO, Craig Kreeger, who asked Patrice to build up the programme and to mentor him personally.
The belief and first-hand experience of reverse mentoring in action filled Patrice with a career-defining purpose. In fact, she became such an expert in the field that she was asked to do a TEDx Talk on the topic in 2021, and was approached by Brené Brown to be featured on her chart-topping Dare To Lead podcast. Incredible, and so well deserved!
In case she hadn't accomplished enough in such a short period of time, in November 2022 Patrice published her first book (that I couldn’t put down) called Reverse Mentoring: Removing barriers and building belonging in the workplace. I was honoured to write the foreword for the book, and I really meant it when I wrote:
You can't help but be excited about what the future will look like, if all businesses embrace Patrice's passion for reverse mentorship; her passion for a world in which all businesses are 100 percent diverse, inclusive, and equitable shines through on every page.
Later that month, I invited Patrice to Virgin’s office in London to catch up on her whirlwind year, and to record a truly heart-warming and insightful Meet The Author interview. Patrice shared so much wisdom with me - about reverse mentoring and inclusion more broadly. As Patrice said, the reason reverse mentoring is so effective is because it makes leaders accountable about inclusion. Instead of shifting DEI (diversity, equality and inclusion) efforts onto HR teams, reverse mentoring visibly involves leaders by bringing them into the lived experiences of others. It forces leaders to lean into their vulnerability, form relationships with employees from marginalised or underrepresented communities, and use their power to amplify these little-heard voices.
As we discussed, being inclusive really boils down to being human and not treating people like robots. As Patrice said: “Leaders can no longer put our ‘work selves’ in a box. So, they have to welcome the ‘whole self’. The Virgin Group is all about bringing our ‘whole self’ to work, and that is particularly important.” We spend so much time at work and with colleagues, so it’s vital to create environments and build relationships where everyone belongs and feels safe.
It was also inspiring to see how passionate Patrice is about empowering other women to find their voices and reach their potential. As she said to me:
I like to say women are alchemists, and when we support each other, the growth and development we see is phenomenal.
It was also moving to hear Patrice speaking so vulnerably about her own career path and moments where she felt lost. But as she said, it’s often these moments of uncertainly that set you up for the biggest adventures. You’ve just got to stick to your purpose and learn to let go!
Thank you, thank you, thank you Patrice – for taking the time to speak to me and for dedicating your career to creating workplaces where everyone belongs. I can’t wait to see what you do next.