In conversation with: Mitzi Rampersad of Barnardo’s

What are the challenges of a diverse mentoring programme? We caught up with Barnardos’ Mitzi Rampersad to find out. 

What’s the process behind creating a diverse mentoring programme in 2017?

Our particular programme involved senior leaders being mentored by staff from one of our three diversity forums: the Black Workers’ Forum, the Disabled Workers’ Forum and the LGBT Forum: this represented a reversal of the usual hierarchy of a mentoring relationship. The process is:

  • Design and cost the programme (e.g. determine the length of the relationship, frequency of meetings, training content, ongoing support, expected outcomes, evaluation processes etc)
  • Identify trainers to deliver the preparatory training
  • Prepare a handbook for ongoing guidance 
  • Recruit and match mentees (senior leaders) and mentors
  • Bring the pairs together for the training, and for interim and final review

What drove Barnardo’s to do so in the first place? 

We wanted to explore interventions that went beyond the usual ways in which we understand diversity issues. We heard about reverse mentoring and explored how this could be applied to our equality and diversity strategy. It was an innovative enabler of the E&D strategy and of our corporate strategy as well as supporting our commitment to being a learning organisation. 

All initiatives have their challenges – what were yours internally and externally?

It took some senior leaders courage to enter into this relationship and to have their thinking and understanding about diversity issues challenged. For the staff who volunteered to be mentors they had to be reassured that a safe place would be created for them to share their lived experience. The preparatory training, in addition to the usual mentoring skills, specifically addressed mentors’ and mentees’ fears, including an exploration of unconscious bias and of how the power dynamic might manifest in the relationship and be addressed.

How did you win the hearts and minds of staff? Did you even need to?

Both senior leaders – the mentees – and the mentors from the diversity forums needed to understand how this particular relationship reversed the usual mentoring dynamic: in this case the less senior person was the mentor. We needed to be clear that this process would be qualitatively different to other E&D interventions. 

We called the programme ‘Reciprocal’ with the notion that the benefits of the relationship would not only be to the senior leader, i.e. the mentee’s, learning and understanding: the mentors expected to also benefit in developing a relationship with a senior leader, through which networking, learning more about how senior management works, career development, increased confidence and a chance to influence organisational policy and practice would all result. The benefits to both parties were clearly expressed. 

Lastly, the knowledge that a preparatory training programme would effectively prepare both parties for entering into this unusual relationship greatly helped in winning hearts and minds.

Three tips for anyone looking to do the same thing in their business?

  • Train staff and leaders for this role: do not assume the relationship can proceed effectively without this.
  • Require feedback from the mentoring relationship – and actions – so that its value can properly be evaluated.
  • Share the learning outcomes with all staff – we used our intranet for this – as many lessons can be understood and adopted by staff throughout the organisation.


About the author

Mitzi Rampersad is workforce development advisor at Barnardo’s


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