By Sheila Callaham, Executive Director
A decade ago, I joined Twitter at the encouragement of my younger mentor, Chris. Shortly afterward, I received my first tweet, to which I excitedly replied. It was, of course, from Chris. I was in my 40s; my mentor, almost half my age.
At the time, I worked for a global pharmaceutical, and mutual mentoring was an informal experiment to engage experienced employees with new early-career recruits. Driven by two employee resource groups (ERGs), the Prime Time Partner Network and the Early Career Network (ECN), the initiative built bridges between the generations.
The two ERGs hosted multiple events together geared at professional development and community stewardship. When the ECN presented a technology session on social media, 200 employees attended–most of them older and eager to learn. Members of both networks joined together to provide gifts and visitation to a local assisted living facility during the end-of-year holidays.
While Chris mentored me on the newest social media platforms, I mentored him on networking and gaining leadership visibility. Two years later, when he applied for The University of Chicago’s MBA program, he asked me to write a letter of recommendation on his behalf. We both celebrated after his acceptance.
Development Across The Age Spectrum
Also called reverse mentoring, co-mentoring, or upward mentoring, the benefits have led many companies to add it to their talent management toolkit. Companies like Microsoft, Target, and UnitedHealth formalized mutual mentoring several years ago and other companies followed.
In a 2019 article, the Harvard Business Review writes that reverse mentoring programs “focus on how senior executives think about strategic issues, leadership, and the mindset with which they approach their work.”
Today, reciprocal mentoring can bridge the gaps of age-bias as well. One new program benefiting from intergenerational co-mentoring is called Ageless Innovators, created by Chicago Innovation, a community of entrepreneurs and business professionals, and The Village Chicago, a community of active, retirees.
“A lot of companies need better models for how to integrate older and younger workers,” says Avery Stone Fish in a recent Forbes article. “The younger voices need to be heard and appreciated, as do the older.
When mentoring reaches across the age spectrum in an open, respectful, and reciprocal curiosity, not only do the employees benefit, but also the organization.
Reciprocal mentoring is one of many recommended strategies to break down the barriers of conscious and unconscious age bias. For more information on age-related business talent strategies, refer to our offerings page or contact us directly. We’re here to help.