Introducing Inclusive Mentoring – what does it actually mean?

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Introducing Inclusive Mentoring – what does it actually mean?

Rehana Begum

Over the summer, the NHS North West Leadership Academy (NHS NWLA) piloted two Inclusive Mentoring sessions aimed at equipping both mentors and mentees with knowledge and understanding about an inclusive mentoring style. We caught up with facilitator, Rehana Begum (a NHS NWLA Coaching and Mentoring Champion) who gave us her thoughts on what inclusive mentoring is, and the importance of learning about this approach.

The intent behind the inclusive mentoring sessions was to support the mentoring community to become more aware of an inclusive approach to mentoring.  But what do we mean by inclusive mentoring and what does it look like in practice?  The article that follows is my own take on what I define inclusive mentoring to be, based on my learning and practice in the field of inclusion and organisational development.

Miller and Katz (2002) 1. defined inclusion as: “…a sense of belonging: feeling respected, valued for who you are; feeling a level of supportive energy and commitment from others so that you can do your best.”

If we apply that definition into a mentoring context from the point of view of the mentee; what would this mean? When we discuss inclusion, people’s thoughts naturally move towards the extreme and thoughts such as, “…I am not racist, or sexist, or homophobic, I have no issues with people with disabilities…consequently I am inclusive”. 

However, Stephen Frost (a leading voice in Inclusion) stated “Unless you consciously include; you will unconsciously exclude”

2.  How many of us choose to consciously include?

Being inclusive is not discussing what you don’t do…but rather what you do do in practice to enable people to feel like they belong, feel respected and valued enabling them to do their best.  It focuses on our intent and purpose within any given space.

This requires a shift of mind-set from the historical definition of mentoring; the simplest definition of ‘the transfer of skills and knowledge from one individual (usually someone older and more experienced) to another (usually someone younger and less experienced)’.  If we consider the dynamics within this relationship, one could describe mentoring as a vehicle which promotes power, hierarchy and status.

In the act of mentoring, are we asking ourselves whether we are reinforcing the power, status and hierarchy gradient that is ours, by the approach we are taking? 

  • Do I feel that there should be a level of appreciation from the mentee for my time; my knowledge and skills that I can ‘transfer’ to them?
  • Do I truly understand the power of the language and words I use and the impact it has on other people?
  • Do I take the time to understand what is my intent and purpose behind the feedback I am providing?
  • Is this truly in service of the mentee?

Do we enter the mentoring space with humility and the understanding that we ourselves will learn and grow alongside the mentee; that it is a two-way learning process and the power doesn’t necessarily lie with us as mentors, but with us both?

Myron Rogers stated at the NHS North West Leadership Academy conference a couple of years ago, that even when we are intently listening the human brain takes in only 80% information thrown at it. Interestingly the 80% I take in will be different to the 80% you take in.  I would therefore suggest that the feedback provided by any mentor will always be subjective based on the information that a mentor has absorbed. 

We must also recognise that all humans are unique; as our mental frame of reference of the world has been built by the hundreds and thousands of experiences we have been part of, and no two people would have been subjected to completely the same experiences…this suggests that my thinking and reaction to a certain topic or word would be different to yours.

With this thinking we can start to appreciate that we form our thoughts and feelings based on our lived experiences, that our mentoring style and approach can be subjective and so our intent and purpose in entering a mentoring space becomes even more important. We can also apply that thinking to understand that our mentees come with their own frame of reference and unique experiences.  Awareness of this gives us a golden opportunity as mentors to learn and grow our own thinking and experiences, by engaging with individuals and supporting them to learn and grow themselves.  This can be done by providing and building psychologically safe spaces in our mentoring relationships, for our mentees to flourish.

The introduction of the NHS NWLA’s inclusive mentoring sessions provide space for prospective mentors to consider how they define inclusion and what it means to them to mentor.  It allows the opportunity for current and prospective mentors to consider why they want to mentor and to have a safe environment to reflect on the potential impact that bias might have in a mentoring space. This is an introduction to building an inclusive approach into our everyday practice; by reflection and understanding ourselves more.

1Miller & Katz 2002; ‘Unleashing the Real Power of Diversity’. In The Inclusion Breakthrough; Berrett-Koehler Publisher 2Stephen Frost 2014; The Inclusion Imperative: How Real Inclusion Creates Better Business and Builds Better Societies: Courage, Creativity and Talent; Kogan Page Publisher

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