Reverse Mentoring in the School of Law

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Mark Webster, Photography, Photographer,

Racheal O’Connor is a lecturer in the school of law. In this article, Rachael talks about her ongoing project to introduce a reverse mentoring scheme, which is commonly adopted in the legal sector. Here she reflects on the pilot study which focuses on supporting the international student experience.

Partly supported by the LITE Catalyst Fund, this pilot project explores the impact of ‘reverse mentoring’ between international students and members of staff in the School of Law.

Reverse mentoring – what is it?

Reverse mentoring is all about finding ways to empower millennials and Gen Z in the workplace, centred on ‘role reversal’ and flipping traditional power dynamics on their head. For example, it has been used in the legal sector as an attempt to improve diversity in more senior roles by pairing senior male board members with junior female solicitors.

This is the first study to explore reverse mentoring between students (mentors) and staff (mentees) from a diversity and inclusion perspective. In this study, students are encouraged to take the lead, sharing their experiences of being an international student here at Leeds and providing their mentees with information and tools that could positively influence the way their mentees teach and interact with students in the future.

What am I trying to achieve?

As our campus becomes more and more ‘internationalised’, it is important that we put our minds to the question of whether we are doing enough to adapt to our diverse student body. To an extent, what the project achieves is dependent on the participants and what they want to get out of it. This is about the creation of impactful, personal relationships between mentors and mentees, above all else.

However, some of the issues I am particularly interested in exploring responses to and change in are: community, hierarchy, stereotypes/bias and diversity/inclusion. I ran some initial focus groups with international students and staff prior to starting the reverse mentoring pilot and these are all issues which we discussed and which there was a range of views on within the School.

The pilot project

Student participants in the pilot study represent four different nationalities. They are all undergraduate students in either their second or final year of a Law degree. Staff participants are predominantly in teaching roles (representing a mixture of scholarship, research and teaching fellowship colleagues) with one participant from student support services. Staff participants also represent a range of experience and seniority levels. I felt this was important as, although relying on student and staff volunteers at this stage, I want to get as wide a range of views on the impact of reverse mentoring as possible. Mentors and mentees were paired randomly, although I excluded any pairings of students/staff who already knew each other well e.g. personal tutors, seminar leaders etc. as I felt pre-existing relationships might make the power role reversal more challenging.

Participants meet at a location of their choice (away from the mentees office) on four occasions throughout the semester. Themes/discussion topics are provided to stimulate discussion around equality and diversity issues. Participants are interviewed at the start and end of the study and asked to complete a reflective log following each meeting to help me recognise and measure impact, learning and change.

Why international students?

There are many studies exploring the international student experience in higher education and there is no denying that it is a complex issue, given the diversity amongst an extremely large body of students.

Internationalisation shows no signs of slowing and is a key focus of many university strategies. Reverse mentoring is a tool which may have a positive impact on the international student experience (and that of many other students), as well as providing additional support to staff working within a diverse and growing campus. We have also set up a new network focused on Internationalising Student Education through which myself and colleagues from across campus hope to provide support to staff in navigating the challenges and opportunities of internationalisation. Please join us if you are interested!

The findings of the reverse mentoring project will be relevant to a number of important debates around the international student experience, student well-being, diversity and inclusion and staff/student relationships (i.e. Bee Bond and Lydia Bleasdale etc.). I look forward to sharing these findings with you in the next SEB!

If you would like to find out more about the reverse mentoring pilot project or reverse mentoring more generally, please contact Rachael O’Connor: r.e.oconnor@leeds.ac.uk

(Note: this project is also partly funded by the Association of Law Teachers)