Claire Geraghty, Support Lawyer, Linklaters
My experiences with reverse mentoring at my law firm
My name’s Claire and I recently took part in a reverse mentoring programme at Linklaters where I work.
I saw the programme advertised on the firm’s intranet. The idea was that junior members of staff from diverse backgrounds acted as mentors to more senior members of staff. As I am visually impaired, I decided to apply.
After a training session, I was paired with a partner who was the Global Head of Diversity & Inclusion at the time. I had never met him before but we exchanged a few emails after being paired and he seemed very friendly and enthusiastic about being involved in the programme.
We met in person as we both happened to work in the same office, although had I been paired with someone from a different time zone or office we could have met remotely. I didn’t know what to expect, and at first it was a bit awkward to reverse the usual power dynamic, but really it was just a chat. We each spoke about our families and backgrounds. I asked him why he wanted to participate in the reverse mentoring programme and he explained that he had recently been appointed Global Head of Diversity & Inclusion and he wanted to meet and learn from people from diverse backgrounds.
The second time we met I took him on a tour of the office so I could show him how I see the building. Because of my visual impairment I used to have trouble with the lifts as although there was a voice announcing the doors opening and closing, it didn’t announce which floor you were on; it was on a little screen high above the door which I couldn’t see. This meant sometimes I would get off at the wrong floor and I’d have to allow extra time to get to meetings. On learning this, my mentee was able to use his influence to get this changed so the lifts now announce the floors and if they are going up or down. So many people have since said how useful it is that the lifts now talk!
"Our meetings were informal and flowed naturally. In advance of our third meeting I sent him several questions to consider, including if he knows anyone with a disability and there’s ever been an occasion when he felt different to other people in a room. He honestly and openly shared his answers in our next meeting."
While I was his mentor, he was also a source of reassurance for me. On one occasion when we met I was really stressed because I’d been late for work that day. The trains I usually get were out of action; I’d had to take a different route to work and got lost. I was upset that my disability had caused me to be late because I knew most other people wouldn’t get lost on their way to work. When I told him he reassured me it wasn’t a problem to be late occasionally, and suggested I take 10/15 minutes when I got into the office in the morning to find a quiet space to decompress. Recently during the train strikes I was late again, and I didn’t get stressed. I just took the slightly longer route knowing that I had received support and permission to do that. I was pleased at how far I had come.
We went on to meet once a month for 8 months. Our meetings rarely got pushed and they were a priority for both of us. Overall it was a really positive experience. I’d only really got comfortable talking about my disability following two eye surgeries just before I applied for the programme and it wasn’t always obvious to others at work that I had a disability. Now I feel more confident in speaking up if something doesn’t work for me, telling someone I can’t read something, or that technology doesn’t work for me. My experience on the programme helped me to see that I’m there to do the best job I can, so any adjustments that can be made, should be made, to enable me to do just that. I was so glad I got paired with the partner in question. He was very engaged and open and it didn’t feel like he was doing it in a performative way. He asked thoughtful questions and really seemed to listen to my responses and insights.
"Having an ally in senior management, the ear of someone that’s not your direct boss has been invaluable. He really took the time to find out more about me, understand the challenges I face and consider potential solutions or improvements that could be made. I think in general people at work are talking more and being more open since the reverse mentoring programme started."
- Reverse mentoring should be voluntary, some people might not want to do it so don’t put any pressure on them to take part.
- Remember if you’re the mentor, you’re the senior person in this relationship so be empowered by that!
- You can meet on neutral ground like a cafe or outside the office if you would feel more relaxed doing that.
- Only share what you’re comfortable with, there’s no obligation to reveal too much about yourself if you don’t want to, although the programme works best if you are open about your experiences.
You can contact LawCare for support on 0800 279 6888
Real stories of people in the legal community who have experienced stress, depression, anxiety and more.