On this episode of Dare to Lead
This week I’m talking with Patrice Gordon about reverse mentorship, a practice that sets up a junior team member, often a member of an underrepresented group, to mentor senior staff. Patrice did a TED talk last fall on how reverse mentorship can help create better leaders, and I loved the approach. We talk through best practices and how to set up a program that provides psychological safety for individuals and for the organization.
Listen to the episode
How Reverse Mentorship Can Create Better Leaders, Patrice Gordon, TED, The Way We Work, November 2020
Brené Brown: Hi everyone, I’m Brené Brown, and this is Dare to Lead. Okay, we saw a TED Talk and we were inspired and we reached out and this is the podcast episode. I am talking to Patrice Gordon about reverse mentorship. It’s a practice that sets up a junior team member, often a member of an underrepresented group to mentor senior staff. So Patrice did a TED Talk last fall on how reverse mentorship can help create better leaders, and it made so much sense to me, why? Of course. Because it’s grounded in curiosity and being a learner, not a knower, and showing up to get it right, not to be right. So I wanted to have Patrice on the Dare to Lead podcast to ask some big questions and dig into what her experiences have been, what she’s learned from reverse mentoring, what are some of the watch outs? Psychological safety, huge issue here, like it is in every issue of transformational and brave leadership. It’s just a great conversation. So I’m glad you’re here. I cannot wait to… If you already know Patrice and her work, great, if not, you’re welcome. I’m glad y’all are here.
BB: So before we jump into the conversation, let me tell you a little bit about Patrice. She is an executive coach and personal development advocate, specializing in inclusive leadership, reverse mentoring, and women’s development programs. Her efforts on building an inclusive environment and the entire cultures at Virgin Atlantic has been recognized internationally by Richard Branson and the TED leadership community. She’s got a passion for helping people realize their potential, which is what led her to develop a career in coaching. Originally trained as a chartered accountant with Price Waterhouse Cooper, Patrice has developed both her financial and commercial acumen, she has risen through the ranks of leadership and now has over 12 years of experience at senior level leadership with commercial airlines and logistics space across British Airways, Royal Mail, and now at Virgin Atlantic. She currently heads up the joint venture and commercial planning team at Virgin Atlantic. Personally, she loves exploring new cultures, she loves diving in warm waters, we had to talk a little bit about diving because my son and husband are… They just want to be diving all the time.
BB: She loves cooking and she loves eating great food, and we also talk about… I’m going to go to her… I’m going to really just show up at her house in London next time I’m there and she’s going to cook me this amazing meal, which I’m very excited about. She attempts to maintain balance through reading, exercise, which she is a Peloton addict she says, and walking her dog, Charlie. Alright, welcome Patrice.
BB: Okay, first I have to say, Patrice, welcome to Dare to Lead and we are so excited to have you on the podcast today.
Patrice Gordon: I am so excited Brené, so excited to be here with you.
BB: We saw your TED Talk. Was it a TEDx Talk or a TED Talk?
PG: TED Talk, The Way We Work.
BB: The Way We Work, okay. And I was so fascinated by this concept of reverse mentoring, and I think there’s just some genius in it, so I want to dig into it, but first I want to start where we always start which, let’s take 10 minutes and tell us your story. Where are you from? Tell us about you.
PG: I would love to. So my name is Patrice Gordon, I am a woman who is grounded in faith, and I believe that what is for me is not going to miss me. I was born in Jamaica, I came to the UK when I was 3, I was an only child and many people think I’m very spoilt but I’m really not. And I was brought up by an incredibly loving mother who instilled in me that I could do anything I put my mind to. I was an avid reader from a young age and I think because I talked a lot, my mom bought me a lot of books because it kept me quite quiet and I always had a vivid imagination and a deep internal thinking voice that I like to refer to and it grounds me. And many people don’t know this about me, but when I was younger, I really wanted to be a model because I saw Naomi Campbell on the catwalk, and aside from entertainment artists, that was the only kind of Black female role model that was out there. And when I look back on it now, I realize that there is such an importance in having vivid and visible role models around to know what you’re capable of as a young child.
PG: High school, I would say I didn’t get any particular direction, but I performed to a really high standard. And I worked in a department store when I was 16, and I always thought that my goal was to be a manager of one of the floors at the department store, and I was really proud that at the age of 17, I was a weekend supervisor. [chuckle] So at the age of 17, I kind of felt like I’ve got some real potential to be able to run this floor, and right up until I went to college, I made a conscious decision to leave my Catholic girl’s school when I was 16 and I said to my mom, “I don’t really feel like I belong here. I really want to try something new and put myself out of my comfort zone.” Now looking back on it, I’m not sure I’d tell my child that she would be allowed to make a decision at 16 to move schools, but my mom gave me faith that I could do anything I put my mind to so right back at you mom. And I chose a college which was highly mixed in South London, and it was filled with a real good ethnic mix of students, and they were really pushing everyone to go to university. And at that time, before I went there, no one had ever talked to me about university, I’m the first person in my family to go to university. And so when I went and I saw this whole new potential in me that I hadn’t seen before, and that also goes to show that your environment really dictates what your future potential could be.
PG: I went to university, and then from there I’ve always been a learner, I’ve always been that person who listens, learns, really tries to understand the rationale behind why people make decisions, because it helps me to see the world from different perspectives, especially growing up as an only child, you seek that kind of social contact with other people to really understand how they work and so I did a degree in business management, specializing in accounting and psychology, so I’m a Libra.
PG: People say, accounting and psychology? I’m like, Yeah, I really love numbers, I really love structure, and I really like to see where I’m going, but equally, I love people and I love the side of people, I love understanding people, and I love the mix of the two of them, and I think I’m a chartered accountant, so I picked accountancy as my first career, I say it’s my first career because I wanted structure, I wanted to know what my income would be, I wanted to know what levels I’d move to, I wanted that structure, and I always knew that I could move from finance into HR at a later date but I couldn’t really move from HR to finance. So I made that decision, I was like, “Okay, I’ll do accountancy,” but unfortunately, I joined an auditing firm, I had no idea Brené what auditing was about. Within a couple of weeks, I realized and I was like, Okay, this is not a good move. However, chartered accountancy, I can’t think of a better place to have started my career, the foundation that gives you to understand numbers, to be that person that people don’t really like when you go into the office, because no one likes the auditor, no one. No one likes the auditor.
BB: No. And they see you coming from far away.
PG: They’re guarded when you come, they have the shutters down and you have to ask the same questions year after year and try to get the best out of them, and so that wasn’t a fulfilling career and I knew after a couple of weeks. As soon as I qualified, I went to seek joy with an industry that I love, so I’ve always loved traveling. Probably when I was younger, we weren’t able to travel as much as I’d like and so when I became an adult, I was like, “Right, I’m going to really travel,” and actually, between university and joining PWC, I took a year out and travelled the world, and that’s where my real love of people and food and experiences and diving all really came alive and I really felt literally free as a bird and that’s why I’ve been in this travel industry for such a long period of time, even though it’s really tough right now, I love it. It’s a part of me. So I tried to leave the airline industry and I did two years at Royal Mail, which is wonderful, I became a finance director. I never thought in my wildest dreams I would become a finance director.
PG: I don’t think I even knew what a finance director was when I was younger. I’m being really honest with you. And I got there and I was like, “I have surpassed my own dreams, I’ve surpassed my mother’s dreams for me.” My mum and my family were always just, “Do the best that you can wherever you are Patrice and whatever you decide to do we’ve always got your back.” And I think when you grow up in an environment like that that’s so loving and looking after you, I did feel like even if I fail, I’d be okay because I was always surrounded by love, and I got there and I’ve always had this thing in the back of my mind, I’m that person, I’m that friend that people come to… I listen to them, I give them advice, I’m like the biggest cheerleader. So if you’re my friend, you can’t be average because I want you to be your best. And my friends, all the people that surround me, always have said to me, You’ll be a great life coach. I’m like, Really? Maybe. Okay. Maybe that’s my HR piece. So I had a life plan and I said, Okay, when I’ve got the time, I am going to invest in a kind of personal development, do some professional coaching qualifications, because I think out there there’s lots of coaches and lots of people that call themselves a life coach…
BB: That is true.
PG: A couple of my values are credibility and authenticity, and so for me, whatever I put myself into, whatever I put my name to, I really want to make sure that I’m doing it to the best of my ability. So there’s an organization called Barefoot Coaches in the UK, which is accredited by a university, and I said, “Yep, that’s the one that I want to do.” And I actually was a participant in one of their group coaching courses, and I saw the rapid transformation of two conflicting teams coming together over a two-day period, their armor removed and being able to really dive into the real crux of the issues they were having and it changed the relationship. And when I saw that and I witnessed that and I was a part of it, I said, “Actually, this is the kind of thing that I want to do.” So it had been on my list for about four or five years, and when I got to being a finance director, and I thought, “Oh right, I’m here now. I never thought I’d be here.” So what next? And also I had this part of me which was calling me to say, “Actually, you need to really lean in Patrice to the gifts that you’ve got,” and I believe I’ve got a couple of gifts, and I’m really good with numbers, I’m really good with structure, I’m really good with governance, I’m really good at bringing people on board, but equally, I’m also really good at bringing the best out of people.
PG: And I thought, “Right, okay, I’m going to really invest in it now, I’m going to lean into it, not just to do a course but to actually say that, I’m going to pursue this as a hobby for now. I’m going to pursue it, I’m going to lean into it.” And that’s when it started. And that was only a few years ago, so that was 2017 when I did that qualification. And it just gave me the confidence to speak authentically, to speak to clients, to speak to friends, and really lean into my experience, my lived experience, my experience as a leader, and when I joined Virgin Atlantic, this is how this whole opportunity came up, because then I looked at my portfolio, and I was like, I’m traveling a ridiculous amount every day to get to London, I’m not completely fulfilled in this role, I never thought I’d be here, but yet still was not filling that thing that I have that is calling me and a role came up at Virgin Atlantic, and it’s a brand that I’ve always admired because I worked at British Airways before, Virgin Atlantic is the competitor, the challenger brand, and I really saw… It was a step back for me career wise, but at that point in time, I knew that I wanted to really lean into my coaching, and so I balanced that.
PG: This is a typical Libra thing, I balanced it, and I really then did my essays, did all of my qualification hours and really then was able to come into the organization knowing that, “Yep, I know I can be a finance director,” I’m really confident in my role, and that gave me the confidence and the ability to lean into other areas in the organization. And that’s where I helped to set up the first finance apprentice scheme, I am the first non-HR person to be a facilitator for our women’s development program in-house, and I also then became the first reverse mentor and was part of the pilot scheme in setting that up for the organization. And if I hadn’t been able to take that step back to step in, I wouldn’t be where I am now.
BB: There are so many things I love about this story, but what I love about this story is that first sentence and how it played out through this winding trajectory of your career, which is what is meant for you, will not miss you.
PG: No. Nope.
BB: I completely believe that.
PG: Absolutely not. And I’ll tell you Brené, the reason why I’m so confident about that is because I… With my love of structure, I had a whole plan. Let me tell you, I had a whole plan, a whole plan for my life, and a couple of years ago, it all kind of went… I felt as though it went wrong for me, now I know it was leading me into a different direction, but everything that I had planned God had unplanned.
BB: Yeah, if you want to see God laugh, make a plan.
PG: I made a plan. And that’s when I realized that when you look back in retrospect and you look at the challenges that you’ve faced and the mountains you have climbed, and what I’m really deeply grateful for is the closed doors.
BB: Say more.
PG: In life, sometimes you want something really badly, and you don’t get it, and you feel frustrated and you’ll search hell and high water and trying to create it for you, and then actually sometimes when you push it a little bit too hard, you realize that it wasn’t meant for you in the first place. And I’ve really got to the point in my life over the past couple of years when I look back and I think, “How did that happen? How did I get to that place? How did I make that bad decision?” And I look back and I think, “Well actually, first of all Patrice, God gave you a few signs and you chose to ignore them because you thought you had a better plan,” but most importantly, I just realized that I have to lean into that. I have to know that what is meant to me won’t miss me, because when I trust that and I know that then the opportunities that I don’t get, the doors that close for me, I’m actually really fine with it because I know that what I thought I might have planned, there’s a bigger plan out there for me. And people say, “How can you believe that? How can you know that?” I just know it and I choose to believe it. And the alternative is that you think everything is going to go wrong, and you get down in the dumps about stuff that you can’t really control, and you feel like the world’s against you because you’re not achieving what you want, and that’s a really hard place to live in.
BB: That’s a choice with hard consequences, for sure.
PG: So since I’ve got to that point in my life where I have really just relaxed and leaned into my gifts and really tried to live in my flow, I try my hardest at everything I do, I believe in trying to really be your best in everything that you do. I’m really open to feedback because I want to be better, that’s intrinsic in me. But equally, I don’t get the opportunities that I think that I deserve. I try to put the ego away and then I lean into, “Okay, obviously, there’s another plan here for me, I’m going to just continue and see how it goes.”
BB: Before we jump into reverse mentoring, which I want to learn so much about, because it just makes so much sense to me, I have to say that one of the things for the folks who are with us right now who are riding in their car or commuting on the subway or walking in their neighborhood, I think that this idea that when you’re on your path, the world conspires very… The Alchemist.
PG: Paulo Coelho?
PG: He’s on my list.
BB: Yes. And I believe that, but I think one of the things that people miss about that is all the work that you do to stay open also has to be in place, your heart has to be open, you have to be doing the leg work for the gift, it’s not like The Secret where you close your eyes and you want the necklace, and then the necklace appears, it’s not that it’s that…
PG: It’s not like that.
BB: No, it’s a shit ton of work.
PG: It really is.
BB: To stay open to the next right thing, and for me, I think in my career, because my career was very windy, the belief that got me through was “Nothing is wasted. I don’t understand why I’m doing this job right now, how did I end up here doing this job, taking calls in Spanish at AT&T,” but nothing was wasted and I knew that it would mean something some day. So I’m going to do the very best I can.
PG: I love that. Nothing is wasted.
BB: Nothing is wasted. Alright, let’s dig into this. Define reverse mentoring for me, I want to know how it came about for you and what you first thought of when you heard it.
PG: I like to say reverse mentoring is when the novice teaches the master. So this is in a normal organizational hierarchy, where the more senior person would be the individual that would be teaching the more junior person what it’s like to do this job, or what it’s like to work here, or what it’s like to survive in this space or this is the way we do things around here. And it’s the opposite of that. This is a leader leaning in to their vulnerability and welcoming a relationship with an under-represented employee, or it could be cross organization as well, and it’s really… The core crux of it is really giving a voice to influence those who are making the decisions, because often around the decision-making tables within organizations, people might look very similar. So when you look around the table, it’s not whose views do we have represented here, but whose views do we not have represented here, and I see reverse mentoring as one of those tools that you can use to amplify the voices of under-represented people.
BB: Wow. That’s just a hard stop. God, this is so smart. Okay, so how did you first walk into this situation and what was your first thought about it? I’m so curious because I’d like other people to hear what you thought when it got teed up.
PG: I have had the benefit, now I look back in my career to have had mentors, whether they call themselves an official mentor or whether I look back on that relationship, and I think actually that was a mentoring relationship, and I used it as such. And I’ve realized how much that has affected me as an individual and as a leader, so when I joined Virgin as I said, I was in a great position where I felt really comfortable and competent in my role, in my day job, so to speak, and I realized that what gave me joy was leaving a legacy within an organization, so that when I left, it wasn’t just my numbers, it wasn’t the great PowerPoints that I put together that people remembered me for, but actually the people whose hearts I touched and enabled them to think and dream bigger and better. And the VP of people experience at the time, who’s now our chief HR Officer, she was my informal mentor and she was relatively new to the business as well, and we used to catch up and kind of shoot the breeze, you would say, and talk about actually what can we bring in here.
PG: What were our expectations in coming into the business versus what it’s really like being in the business now, and what would we like to change if we had the opportunity to. And so I’d always been, and I have always been in every organization I’ve been in, that person who’s really comfortable in sharing their opinions, but not in a way of, “I’m right, you’re wrong, and this is what you should do,” but in a way of, “Actually, I’ve looked and observed, and I think maybe this might be something that we could do,” not only tossing the ball over the fence, but actually wanting to be a part of the solution. So when our then CEO, Craig Kreeger, said, “Actually, I’m really interested in this reverse mentoring topic. I haven’t got any black females in my circle. I think that’s where I’d like to start. I’d like to have a reverse mentoring relationship with someone from that background,” and I was the first person that Estelle thought of.
PG: And when she asked me, I was like, “Yeah, sure.” And I guess I was relaxed about it because I was a senior leader in the organization already, I’d presented to Craig on a few occasions and actually Virgin Atlantic as a brand is such a welcoming organization, it is literally like a family. I was a bit shocked when I first came in because I’d come from this really corporate background, and everyone is genuinely friendly. There are genuine friends in that organization, and it made me feel even more comfortable when I was going to have that kind of session with Craig. So was kind of teed up. Estelle left it quite loose, but Craig and I had a previous kind of relationship and we just kind of played it by ear. We had a few informal sessions. We had our first one off-site, and we really just got to know each other. I was vulnerable, he was vulnerable, and we kind of leaned into the process to talk about who we were as opposed to what we did.
BB: Big difference.
PG: Really big difference. We were able to find some really great similarities between, even though there was a couple of decades between us, but we both were from immigrant backgrounds. So he was kind of second generation in the US, I was first generation in the UK. He, even though it’s one way, so I was kind of giving my experience and he asked questions such as, “How do you feel being a black female has affected you, being an immigrant has affected you in an organization, not necessarily just at Virgin? What are your thoughts about what we could do differently, and how would you approach things?” And we had some really deep insight that he shared with the leadership team and also with the wider business, which I really appreciated, and that was the start of a pilot that we did within the organization with senior leaders and people from under-represented groups, and then we flew into making that part of our people strategy going forwards, and that unfortunately got paused last year in COVID, but we hope to kind of restart it towards the end of the year when everyone comes back into the office.
PG: And the person who I worked alongside for it, she worked across lots of different organizations, and she was so surprised at the way that I dived into it, given that I didn’t have any background in it. So we worked together, she gave me some advice, the HR team were really involved in it in setting up the pilot, and she nominated me for a couple of awards within the UK, which were around people who were leaning into diversity and inclusion activities and trying to make the organization more inclusive. And that was really kind of an eye-opener for me because I was just doing my job, and trying to make my mark, and it was really nice to be recognized externally for something that I thought wasn’t that much of a big deal. And that was really when I realized my… I wouldn’t say my power… But my ability to influence really externally. And from there, it just kind of grew. And that’s someone saw something that I had been nominated for, and then I started to lean in to more things outside work. So I’m a mentor for women in hospitality, in hospitality and leisure. I am part of their sub-committee on ethnicity, and I’ve recently just joined as a committee member for women in aerospace and aviation.
PG: So this really small thing that I did just grew into something, into a life of its own, and one of the researchers from TED contacted me last year in the middle of Corona, said, “Oh, we’d be interested in just having a conversation with you.” We had a very quick conversation. They were like, “Think you’d be good for one of our TED Talk series, The Way We Work.” I was like, “Okay.” So we spent a few weeks going backwards and forwards with my script, and they were like, “Yeah, I think you’re good to go now.” And then they came to my house and they filmed The Way We Work in my house… [chuckle]
BB: Oh my God.
PG: In August of last year, and I was shocked. And then since then it’s literally just taken off. So that came out in November, and people have contacted me about different things, specifically about reverse mentoring, and specifically in light of what happened last year in terms of the racial disparity, and we’ve really just leaned into some real good leadership workshops in relation to racial fluency, but also how to be better overall inclusive leader. And so it was just beautiful that you asked me to be on this podcast because I quote you in all of my workshops in regards to leaning in with vulnerability and having the courage to really rumble and get into some of that deep stuff.
BB: You’re such a living example of the power of daring leadership and an open heart versus an armored heart. I just love your story and I love the example you’re setting around, “I had the confidence to try something new. I gave it a shot. I had a moment with the closed door, but then went on.” One of the things that you said about reverse mentoring that I want to go back and I want to hover on it for a minute because it seems important to me, and I’ve got some questions. I’ve done some work with Richard Branson, I know what culture means to him, and when we did some work together, he talked a lot about his dyslexia, he talked a lot about the shaming culture of school that he experienced, and he seems to be… And I make up, I’ve never worked inside of one of his organizations… But he seems to be someone who takes culture very seriously, and takes psychological safety really seriously. I guess my question for you is, for people listening, “How much of the success of the reverse mentoring program would you attribute to it being inside of a culturally safe and open environment?” Does the question make sense?
PG: Yeah. I’d say 90%. So I think one of the things that you posed to me previously was, “What advice would you give in regards to setting something up?” And my first tip is ensuring psychological safety, because in order for change to take place and in order for people to lean in with vulnerability, they first have to have trust, and if the organization has a history of not following through on what they said they would do, or being an organization which asks a lot but doesn’t feedback a lot, then people would be quite reticent in terms of leaning into that process. So I think first and foremost, after what happened in the summer and after my TED Talk, lots of people reached out to me to say, “I’ve been asked to be part of a scheme. I did it. What I said was then translated out of context or shared further than I thought it would be shared, and I feel as though I might now be looked at in a slightly different way within the organization.” And so these are all things that I’ve taken in to be one of my chapters in regards to the organization and how do you… Don’t just latch on to it as, “Oh my God, this is really cool. I think this will be great, and we can tick it off on a box to say that we’re trying to do something more inclusive.”
PG: Actually, you really need to, first of all, acknowledge where in the past it hasn’t really gone very well.
PG: Think that first. Coming to the table and saying, “Actually, you know what, previously, we’ve done X, Y and Z, these things haven’t worked, and we haven’t been good enough at responding to you or listening to you, but now we recognize that and moving forward, these are our plans and these are our commitment to you.” And I think that really goes into the work that you do, Brené, around leading with vulnerability and really leaning into that. And I think lots of organizations do could do well with kind of holding their hands out first to say, “Actually, this is where we are. We really want to do better. And as such, this is the process that we’re going to go through, and as such, we’re actually going to keep it really rigid, this process, not just a loose coffee chat but… ” Because that’s one of the dangers. People have these loose coffee chats and they think, “Right, where is it going to lead to?” For me, it’s having that independent person to do the matching so that you’ve got that point of call, so you know that someone who’s not friends with this person is matching you with somebody else.
PG: I think commitment from the business, as I said, on the intent and the purpose and the expected outcomes. So what are you going to do… A common coaching question is, “Now what, so what?” Now what you’ve got the information, so what are you going to do with it, right?”
BB: Amen. Yes.
PG: What are you going to do with it?
BB: Now what, so what?
PG: Now what, so what? What are you going to do with that information now you have it? And then I think it’s being aware of that role reversion. I think when people ask for feedback it’s that, are you in that place where you can accept it and you can take what people are saying on board, bearing in mind that they may not be sugar-coating it, and the way that they say it might be really emotive, because it’s something that touches them really deeply?
PG: And therefore, the way you receive it, it might get your back up a little bit, but how do you hold that to allow that message to seep in? And I think one of my gifts, which is why I end up at a lot of these tables with the senior leaders, is I’m able to translate from a place of emotion, very objectively. So even if I’m feeling inside riled, I can pause, take that one, two, three, and then translate. Just because I have experienced it where I haven’t done that, Brené. [chuckle]
BB: Yeah, me too.
PG: There are still moments. But the times that I don’t do that, what it taught me in the past is that’s not effective to getting your message across, so if it means that I can pause and take a one, two, three and get that message across, where they can accept my message without distorting it with any of the other emotions that are around it, then that’s my objective. My objective is that you receive the message in the best way that you’re going to take action on it, not that I’m able to express my feelings about it.
BB: That’s the art of communication, right?
BB: That takes a lot of self-awareness.
PG: It does, but do you see, when you talk about that, Brené, in the aspect of a reverse mentoring relationship, unfortunately, the people who are the mentors, who are the more junior individuals within the organization, may not have that art of communication nailed.
BB: That’s right.
PG: And so that’s where you can kind of give coaching and teaching, but equally that raw emotion is going to come across, and therefore that individual who’s receiving that information, how do you be in a place where you’re able to receive it without being emotional in response?
BB: Without defending, getting defensive and justifying rationalizing, yeah. How do you not personalize it, yeah?
PG: Exactly. How do you not personalize it? And that’s where I then say, “Beware of using the individual, lived experience to then formulate policies, but use it as a lever to dig a bit deeper.” So if there’s something that someone’s particularly impassioned about, then you should really listen to it, and then actually really think about it and discuss it with HR, because that’s what they’re there for, to bounce that off, to say, “Actually, someone shared this with me. What do you think? Is it an individual experience?” And some individual experiences are very valid. Of course, every individual experience is valid. I’ll take that back. Every individual experience is valid, but then when you are looking as a leader on that C-suite table and you’re thinking, “Okay, which policies do I need to change to ensure that the under-represented are more represented? And where’s the heat map to those issues?” You need to figure out a way to understand… And that’s where employee resource groups come in. If you pose those questions, or if you enable that set up, then you really allow people to have a voice, and then through having that voice, you’ll be able to understand where those really hot areas are to help then influence.
BB: I would think that it would be a good idea for the folks who are doing the mentoring, kind of the under-represented folks who are doing the mentoring, to have a really trusted point of contact.
BB: That oversees the programming, that they can confide in, that they can say, “Wow, this is starting to feel slippery to me, I feel like people are treating me differently.” I would want an advocate for the mentors in this case. Does that make sense?
PG: Yes, so that the way that we had set it up is the person who did the matches was that independent person, and I was also the role model mentor, we kept the door open to say “Actually, if you’ve got any issues or if anything you want to talk about… This is your trusted space”. We held sessions, maybe, every two months or so to bring everybody together to talk about their experience in a shared space.
BB: God, I love that.
PG: So, it was a real nice environment for people to come in without any armor… With complete trust and to talk really honestly about how well or how not well, or how they felt, or how they thought the other person felt during that period of time. And I think that’s really important because, that’s like another network in itself.
BB: Yeah, and as I think about this, I think about the potential of this, not only around under-represented folks, but I’m thinking about all these companies that we go in and work in, especially companies that are in the middle of digital transformation. What… There’s inter-generational conflict. Right, so they’ve got someone… I’m going to make up an example because I can’t really talk about the companies I work with, but you’ve got someone in their 50s, maybe my age, who was in a big revenue-generating team, and there was a certain way of working and doing things, and then they look and they’re like “Who’s this young woman on a skateboard that has her Pug in her backpack at work, what the hell is going on?” And “What are we going to have slides next and ping pong tables?,” and what’s hard about that and what’s so serious about that, is that the biggest shame trigger that we have found in our research… The biggest shame trigger at work, is the fear of irrelevance. That what I bring and what I contribute…
BB: Is no longer relevant. Yeah. And the thing that’s so hard is that the fear of irrelevance brings up armor, the armor prevents learning and being curious and it prevents change, it prevents leaning in, and then your fear becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy.
BB: Does that make sense?
BB: As opposed to getting to know some of these people that… Yeah, I… You know, “I spent 20 years working on servers and now you’re here and you’re 21 and you’re probably making the same salary I’m making because of demand, and you’re working on the cloud and… I hate you.”
PG: Yeah, what is the cloud?
BB: Yeah, where is it, and what is it?
PG: And actually, that’s interesting you say that, but intergenerational, I’ve done a lot of work and research on it, in terms of the US labor force in 2025 is going to be made up primarily of Millennials, right?
PG: By 2025, we’ve got almost five generations by 2025, we’ll have almost five generations.
BB: What? Wait, wait, wait, wait, are you saying by 2025, there’ll be five generations working together in the workplace?
PG: According to the Wall Street Journal, the Department of Labor, “We’re going to have 4.7% of workers in the workforce who are 16 to 19 years old, and in the 80-plus category, there’s going to be 7%. So we’ve got Generation Z, Millennials, Gen X, Boomers and the Silent Generation. By 2025, the majority will be Millennials. Right?
BB: Yikes. I actually… I love me some Millennials, so I’m like,”Woo pass the baton folks.”
PG: So when you look at it, the intergenerational piece, you’re so right, Brené. The way that organizations… When you look at the C-Suites in these organizations, there’s this bottleneck in those C-Suites, right?
PG: People of similar ages, of similar background… You know, the similarity affinity bias. I’ve got a whole part on my book around, what are the different things that you can do to kind of trigger that diversity of thought within those groups, that you can really dig deep and have a little bit of cognitive diversity within it.
PG: Definitely the age thing is massive because actually the bottleneck is holding a lot of people in place and they’re not moving for a while. So therefore, as an organization, and as organizations look into the future and they try to figure out, “Okay, how do we move with the times?” You’ve got this workforce that you need to bring together collectively, so that they can work together so that you can be that competitive advantage, right? Because the more you push against it, you’re not in the flow, the more you’re going to get stuck.
BB: That’s right.
PG: And so, it’s how do you remove the barriers between these under… And that is an underrepresented group.
PG: The generational is an underrepresented group. And I just think it’s a great tool to be able to include within your organization to then say “Right, actually, we’re trying to pull down the barriers. We find value in everyone, and everyone’s got something to give. It’s just different, everybody’s got a different gift to this and we want to get the best out of everybody, and we value everyone, and our policies reflect the need for everyone at different stages in their life or people from different background.” What a Utopian world could that be, if we were able to kind of design organizations like that.
BB: Sign me up.
BB: Yeah, no. Okay, before we get into the rapid fire, I have to ask this question because I’m getting 15 Post-it Notes about, when can we expect the book?
PG: I hope it will be out this time next year.
BB: Perfect, and you’ll come back and talk to us?
PG: I will definitely come back and talk to you.
BB: We would love that. Alright, you ready for the rapid fire?
PG: I’m ready.
BB: Wait, before we go into the rapid fire, I just wanted to say that I think this idea is genius. I think the container that you talk about needing to build for this idea to be safe and effective is equally genius, and I want people listening who are like “Oh God, this is so smart, we need reverse mentoring,” to also really pay attention to what Patrice has so eloquently explained needs to be in place for that to be safe. Independent matching, setting up time for people, the mentors who are doing this to have gathering time to normalize and talk about, and to have a culture in place that doesn’t get people to do what they need to do based on fear. Because the last thing we want to do is go to someone who is in an underrepresented group and say, “You have to do this mentoring with this scary person that you know can be shitty and doesn’t listen, but needs to tick something off their transactional DEIB list for the day.” So I just think the beauty in what you’re talking about is in the whole of what you’re talking about.
PG: Thank you, Brené. Very well summarized.
BB: It’s just beautiful. Alright, you ready?
PG: I’m ready.
BB: Why do I have a feeling that you’re prepped for this? Okay.
PG: I’m ready, I’m ready. [chuckle]
BB: Are you? Okay, I’m going to mix it up. I’m going to mix it up.
BB: Okay, ready?
BB: I am going to mix it up. Fill in the blank for me. Vulnerability is…
PG: Removing some of your armor.
BB: Just hashtag crush. Okay, what is something that people often get wrong about you?
PG: That I’m really serious. [chuckle]
BB: I actually can see that. I can see that. Okay, mixing it up. Last TV show that you binged and loved.
PG: Firefly Lane.
BB: I’m thinking about watching that. Is it worth watching?
PG: It is absolutely beautiful story of two young women growing up together, becoming adults together, and just the complications of life and their relationships. Absolutely loved it. Binged it over a weekend.
BB: One of your favorite movies.
PG: Girls Trip.
BB: Oh my God.
BB: Oh my God.
PG: In New Orleans. And then after… That influenced me to go to Essence Fest, New Orleans 2019. I’m so glad I went because then it stopped because of Corona.
BB: Okay. Maybe the hardest I’ve ever laughed in my life. Yeah, it was so good. Okay.
PG: Because you’re from New Orleans as well.
BB: Yeah, I grew up there. So I know you’re from the UK, and you have a different queen, but my queen is Queen Latifah.
PG: I love Queen Latifah.
BB: Yeah. And so…
PG: All of them just absolutely crack me up. I’m with you, Brené.
BB: Yeah, it was just good. Okay. What’s one piece of leadership advice that you’ve been given that’s so remarkable you need to share it with us, or so shitty that you need to warn us about it?
PG: The shittiest advice is, “Patrice, all you need to do is focus on managing upwards.”
BB: Wow. What do you think the intention was behind that?
PG: It was a reflection of their leadership style, and what they…
BB: Ooh, ooh, there it is!
PG: It was a reflection of their leadership style and what they needed from me at that time.
PG: That was my independent, unbiased very objective view of what the feeling was behind that.
BB: Dang. Okay. What is the hard leadership lesson that the universe keeps putting in front of you and that you have to keep learning, unlearning, relearning?
PG: Being a leader is really hard, and no matter what you do, you cannot please everybody all of the time.
BB: Dang it.
PG: Every time I will bend over backwards for my team, for people around me, and there’s always going to be… It’s just never enough. You’re never going to please everybody. And that’s why you have to have your central grounding. You have to have your values, you have to have your central grounding, you have to hold your hand up when you’ve made a decision that you thought was right that other people didn’t think was right in terms of leadership, and you have to take it on board. No matter what your intent was, it was how people receive it. No matter what your intent is, it depends on how well someone receives it. And Don Miguel Ruiz is one of my favorite authors in terms of The Four Agreements, and that was a real leadership piece for me around actually not taking things too personally. And whilst I want to be my best, but equally, you have to be able to figure out what you absorb, what you learn, and then how you roll back from it, because I used to take feedback really seriously… Personally, not seriously. Personally. Deeply, deeply, personally.
BB: Yes. I do not know anything about that, but…
BB: Yeah, no, it is so hard. Yeah, I have to say, when I’m over in that backbend, bending over for other people, I’m always like, “Boy, you’d better be doing this for your own joy because… ” I’m like, “Hey, I’m in the backbend for you.” People are like, “No shits are given.” So you have to really understand why you’re doing it. It’s hard. Okay, I’m going to sneak more questions in because it’s so fun to get to know you. Favorite meal?
PG: On a really good day, frequently, I’ll have salmon, avocado, and some Jollof, which is like a African tomato-based rice, but my favorite meal that I could eat everyday if there were no repercussions, would be the Jamaican fried Escovitch snapper with dumplings and plantain. [chuckle] All day every day.
BB: Can you cook that?
PG: I can cook it very well. I love cooking.
BB: Okay, okay, so if I ever come and visit you, let me just put in my meal request right now.
PG: It would be an absolute honor.
BB: Oh my God, that sounds…
PG: We’ve got a date, Brené.
BB: Okay, tell me how the snapper’s breaded.
PG: The snapper, you season it with fish seasoning, onions, garlic, and Scotch bonnet peppers.
BB: Oh my God. Yum.
PG: You leave it to soak, then you fry it, and then you make this Escovitch. It’s like a vinegar. You soak the onions, garlic, Scotch bonnet in a vinaigrette, and then you fry the fish and then you sprinkle the vinaigrette to over it, and then… It’s heaven.
BB: Oh my God, my mouth is watering.
PG: It’s probably got about 1000 calories in it as well, alongside the dumplings and the fried plantain, but I’m telling you…
BB: Okay. Fried plantain’s one of my favorite things in the whole world. Are you frying it in olive oil or what are you frying it in? Butter?
PG: No. No, not butter. Just vegetable oil. Normal vegetable oil.
BB: Vegetable oil. Okay. And then how are the dumplings made?
PG: Some plain flour, a little bit of baking powder, water, and salt, and then you leave it to rise for a couple of hours. So you mix it up, like you knead it, like a bread, and then you cover it with a wet cloth to allow it to rise a bit, and then you roll them into dumplings and deep fry, them…
BB: I was going to ask if they’re deep fried.
PG: They’re deep fried.
BB: And then the plantains.
PG: Yeah, and the plantains deep fried as well. [chuckle] Everything’s fried.
BB: Okay, this is already my favorite meal and I’ve never had it. Okay. Alright. We’re on. What is one thing that you’re really excited about right now?
PG: Life. I have a future ahead of me, which I have not completely planned, and I’m really excited about the doors that are going to open for me and the doors that are closed.
BB: If some of that could ooze over the Zoom on me, on those doors closed, because my poor legs from trying to break down those suckers, when it’s just… I know it’s never… And when I break them down and go in, I’m like, “Shit, wrong room.” Yeah, it’s awful. Did I hear that you love diving? Are you a scuba diver?
PG: I’m an advanced PADI diver, and I cannot wait to get back to the Caribbean or just somewhere warm where I can literally dive in.
BB: Yeah, my husband’s a diver and he’s just counting down the days to his first dive trip post-COVID.
PG: And Brené, I’m not a very strong swimmer, so this is the irony, I really hate swimming. If I go to a beach, I’m not swimming. But if you say, “Let’s go diving,” I’m like, “Get me under the deep water.”
BB: I am the direct opposite, I will be swimming toward the fish that we’re going to eat while you’re underneath. Okay, we asked you for five songs you can’t live without. “Golden,” by Jill Scott.
BB: “It’s Going to be a Lovely Day,” by Luther Vandross featuring Busta Rhymes.
BB: “Before I Let Go,” Beyoncé from Homecoming.
BB: “Blessings”… Great song by Chance the Rapper and “So Good” by…
PG: Machel Montano.
BB: Machel Montano. Okay, I have to look at this one. So we have put a mini mixtape together with your picture on it on Spotify, that’s…
PG: That’s exciting.
BB: Yeah it’s very exciting. And your mini mixtape will be in our Insta stories. So in one sentence, what do these five songs say about you?
PG: They say that I am the eternal optimist.
BB: And I just have to say that you made… Genia is the person who helps us, in our team put these up and she’s like, “Now, this is a playlist. Now, this is a playlist.” She was very excited. I got the note emojis, she’s like, “This is a great playlist,” so our team cannot wait to listen to it.
PG: Oh, that’s amazing.
BB: If it is one quarter as lovely as you, we will be jamming out for a long time.
PG: Thank you Brené.
BB: Thank you for being with us on Dare to Lead.
PG: Thank you for inviting me, it’s been an absolute pleasure.
BB: I think reverse mentoring is daring leadership, and I think building the culture that is the right container for a program like this, that is what courageous leadership looks like, so thank you for being a model of that for us.
PG: Thank you so much Brené.
BB: I love this conversation, and I love how we got introduced to her work, watching a TED talk that we thought was really important and interesting, and then she just gave us a whole-hearted “Yes,” when we asked if she’d be on the podcast. You can find Patrice on LinkedIn at Patrice Gordon, P-A-T-R-I-C-E G-O-R-D-O-N. Her website is eminere, E-M-I-N-E-R-E.co.uk and as always, all of our podcast episodes on Dare to Lead and Unlocking Us have episode pages on brenebrown.com, where you can find all the links, downloads, and transcripts. You can also find a link to the mini mixtapes for all our guests, including Patrice’s, which she has just a great mini mixtape. I appreciate y’all being here, I appreciate you being on this Daring Leadership journey with me. Let’s stay awkward, brave, and kind. Thanks y’all.
The Dare to Lead podcast is a Spotify original from Parcast. It’s hosted by me, Brené Brown. It’s produced by Max Cutler, Kristen Acevedo, Carleigh Madden, and Tristan McNeil and by Weird Lucy Productions. Sound design by Kristen Acevedo and Andy Waits, and the music is by The Suffers.
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