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An experiment with reverse mentoring at Akamai India: Women mentoring senior leaders on gender inclusion!

Rumi said, "Clean out your ears, don't listen for what you already know." And that's exactly what leaders at Akamai India did during the pilot event of Flip, a reverse mentoring event, held earlier this month. High potential women from diverse functions and roles became mentors to these senior leader mentees for a day, helping them understand what gender inclusion and exclusion in the workplace feels like. Akamai believes in being an inclusive workplace that values all individuals and their contributions, and candid conversations about inclusion in diverse groups are the first step towards building a truly inclusive workplace.

The event started with a discussion on why gender inclusion was important to openly discuss, based on insights from talent reviews and gender diversity metrics across levels. A silent reflection exercise followed, where mentees discovered what questions they would like to explore with their mentors.

 Designed to offer diverse perspectives in a short amount of time, interaction with mentors proceeded in a speed mentoring format, where mentors and mentees discussed real-life instances around three largely invisible themes that impact female talent's experience in the workplace:

  • No one talks about these things: Uniquely female experiences that don't have a place in the workplace but should
  • I felt so judged when: Female perspectives that aren't valued because people see gender before they see merit
  • The strangest feedback I ever heard: Feedback or observations made about women in the workplace that are never made about a man

 The mentees were also joined by a few global leaders from Akamai, Jim Gemmell - Executive VP and CHRO, Anthony Williams - VP, Talent Acquisition and D&I, Sabine Setterli - VP, Networks Infrastructure.

 The day closed with a "Reflections" segment where mentees shared their insights and commitments from the day. Mentees felt that Flip is a powerful and well-structured platform that must become an ongoing initiative and also be extended to middle and front-line managers. The experience also raised questions for mentees such as, "Are we really comfortable with strong, assertive women with opinions?" and "How can we empower women to share open, honest feedback with the person demonstrating bias or discrimination to make that person aware of how their action or inaction was impacting their female colleague".

 The leader-mentees have committed to engaging in more such dialogue across the organization with their teams. Their mentors helped them understand how bias and discrimination can be much broader and unconscious than we often recognize. Mentees felt the need to be more open to redefining what conversations and topics must have greater acceptance to be a truly inclusive workplace. Next steps include check-ins with senior women leaders, HR business partners, D&I core team as well as mentors and mentees themselves to explore how the conversation and resulting action may be sustained.

 All in all, a great pilot in reverse mentoring at Akamai and a truly "flipped" experience for everyone!


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