Reverse mentoring

Dell has been running a reverse mentoring scheme whereby middle female manager mentor senior male managers. It has also totally transformed its office space to support remote working. wanted to find out more.

How do you get majority male boards to understand the issues facing women attempting to rise up the career ladder? One way is to reverse the mentoring process and have female middle managers mentor senior male managers.

Dell has been running just such a reverse mentoring scheme for the last two years or so. It only affects a small group of people, but Dell says the feedback it has had has been excellent. “It gives the men a new understanding,” says Shirley Creed, who leads Dell’s UK Women in search of excellence [WISE] network,  “and helps to take forward programmes we have wanted to take forward."

Those programmes include Dell’s Connected Workplace initiative which involves putting the technology in place to make remote working possible and is being rolled out internationally. “The mentoring scheme has given the men who had been mentored a deeper understanding of how Connected Workplace would help people, especially women with children,” says Creed. “The men may have families and wives so they are not immune to the issues, but the scheme is about women articulating directly what the issues are for them in the workplace.”

The women in the scheme are not necessarily mums. They might have other caring responsibilities, for instance. The scheme allows them to comment on a one on one basis on how company policies affect women’s lives, for instance, how having a meeting at a certain time of day might make things very difficult for them.

Creed says the way people work at Dell has changed dramatically in recent years and this has benefited women. As part of the Connected Workplace pilot, the company asked its large sales force how they made remote or mobile working work. “We took advantage of their knowledge as they were already doing it,” says Creed. “Remote working is not just about homeworking, but can also mean working from a client’s office or on the road,” she adds. The initiative has greatly reduced the company’s overheads and means it can retain staff who move to different parts of the company. That also means it has greater national coverage.

From an employee perspective, the Connected Workplace initiative has increased staff engagement, says Creed. Staff were invited to change their terms and conditions as part of the roll-out of Connected Workplace. “We didn’t want to do it in an underground way,” she says. Now when the company hires people the default position is now remote working and new recruits have to physically click a box which says they want a desk job. “Not everyone suits working from home,” says Creed. She adds that three people in her team have children and all of them work different regimes that suit them as individuals. “It’s about understanding how individuals work best,” she says.

Currently about 65% of Dell’s workforce work remotely. This has freed up a huge amount of desk space and meant a reorganisation of the head office ushering in a hot desk area, collaborative working spaces for meetings and training and small telephone rooms for personal calls.

The Connected Workplace initiative has also led to an increase in the number of women returning from maternity leave.

Women’s network
Dell’s WISE Network has also been very active in promoting women’s career progression. It runs networking events and tries to schedule them around times when people are in the office for training sessions or meetings. Events include speed networking where senior executives are present. There are also one-day training events which focus on influencing skills and include clips from senior executive around the world on how networking helped them develop their career.

In addition, the WISE Network has been involved in hosting and taking part in women in technology events with other firms such as Google. “We are bringing people together who might be able to help each other make connections,” says Creed. The women in technology group also targets school students to try and encourage more girls to see that the technology industry is not all about geeks and is relevant to them. “It’s about bringing it back to the day to day things like the smartphones they use and showing them that the industry includes a huge range of roles such as marketing,” says Creed.

WISE is not limited to women and many events include men. It has, for instance, responded to new legislation like additional paternity leave and has launched initiatives aimed at dads and dads to be. 

It also promotes mentoring and advocacy for women work. “We are seeing more and more focus on women having advocates who will speak up for them, for instance, if there is a promotion going. We want to make women more aware that they need to talk to their mentor to ensure they are taking an active role and advocating for them when it matters,” says Creed.

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