Reverse mentoring to create better LGBT+ allies at Home Group
Mark Henderson, September 09, 2019
Housing association Home Group has worked hard to create an environment where LGBT+ colleagues and customers feel safe, respected and celebrated
Since becoming a Stonewall Diversity Champion a few years ago the commitment from the whole organisation to furthering LGBT+ equality has been truly inspiring. It has certainly been a challenging journey, but being ranked so highly is rich reward for all my colleagues’ hard work.
It would be easy to sit back and congratulate ourselves for a job well done, but equality is not something you can pick up and drop again. It is a constant fight that needs to be had both inside and outside the workplace.
When I was approached by our LGBT+ network, Pride at Home, about reverse mentoring I thought it was a great idea and a really good learning experience for me. The opportunity to hear what it’s really like across Home Group from a colleague's perspective is invaluable.
Reverse mentoring in its more traditional sense is still growing. Any opportunity to bring colleagues together, irrespective of their role or position, has clear benefits for every organisation.
By going beyond this and focusing on a particular group it served to further embed the right attitudes and behaviours into our culture. Reverse mentoring promotes visibility and discussion at all levels, creating an open atmosphere where everybody can feel comfortable.
My mentor reminded me that, outside of Home Group, more needs to be done in society and that we all have a responsibility to do more than just listen; we need to take action as well.
The experience was a bit of a wake-up call about attitudes and behaviours in the wider community. It reminded me that as an employer and as decent people we need to stand up to prejudice wherever it affects us and our colleagues.
When my mentor told me about the significant abuse they and colleagues had suffered at a bar I could have just empathised and carried on. I could maybe have boycotted the bar and asked others to do the same. But we can and should do more. I wrote to the CEO of the pub group to inform him of the experience. To the group's credit, I received a phone call and the issue was swiftly dealt with. Challenging works – and it makes a difference.
While this example falls outside of Home Group, I would never have known or been able to act were it not for reverse mentoring and our inclusive culture. At its heart is a quality conversation that leads to developing a strong and lasting relationship.
It was a real privilege for someone to take the time to help me learn about their experiences. Senior managers in organisations have the power to change things, so it’s important everyone builds on the learning we’ve gained.
I’m proud of the signal sent out by all of the executive team at Home Group through taking part in reverse mentoring. It shows that we do care about our organisation and believe that every colleague has the right to be themselves at work. All of the executive team, and most of senior management, have shown a real commitment to supporting colleagues. They’re members of Partners in Pride, our LGBT+ allies network that now has more than 600 colleagues signed up, and are active advocates that promote and attend a broad range of LGBT+ events.
They’ve also helped to drive our trans inclusion agenda, developing a transitioning in the workplace process in consultation with trans colleagues and ensuring our policies and processes are trans inclusive.
I said at the beginning that I’m not one to sit back and congratulate myself. While it’s important to recognise the hard work that has gone into ensuring Home Group is rightly recognised as a leading LGBT-friendly workplace, the fight needs to go on.
Initiatives like reverse mentoring ensure we continue to think beyond the accolades and focus on what matters most – improving the lives of all our colleagues and customers. Senior leadership has such an important role to play; as long as we’re all willing to listen, learn and act.
Mark Henderson is chief executive of Home Group