Skip navigation
All Places > Lean In Energy > Blog

Lean In Energy

10 posts

Ever since we launched Pink Petro, people have asked why we built it as a for-profit business, rather than a nonprofit organization.


The answer is simple: Women are not a charity case. They are a business imperative for the future of energy. And it is our business to help them and the companies that employ them succeed. 


Building global community means listening to our members and understanding their needs and finding impactful measurable solutions.  In our 2015-2016 member survey, our community indicated it was craving mentorship programs that were inclusive of men that give women access to the external world.  Pink Petro needed a world-class way to provide that, at scale to meet the needs of the energy industry, sector wide and world wide.  


Lean In EnergySo we partnered with Sheryl Sandberg’s global Lean In organization to create the Lean In Energy chapter.  


Sandberg's Foundation not only provides a world class research driven programming, but her work, OptionB, has extended to building resilience in people, companies and communities.  It was a natural fit, and well, I'm a bit biased.  Sheryl is amazing.


Since then, a thousand of you have signed up to join or create Lean In circles around the world. We are so grateful to all of you for embracing this opportunity, and for Sheryl and her team for giving us the platform we needed to make it work.  In the coming weeks and days, we'll have our circle teams reach out to those women and men who signed up to get a progress check, reassign circles and get a health check.


"The response to the program has been overwhelming and that's a good thing!  We're working with all circles now to check on the progress, reassign and align needs and commitments.  We're excited to help women connect in a way that leads to their growth and empowers them, " says Yetunde Okediji, Director of Circles. 


But we're going bigger in 2018.


We have filed our paperwork to turn Lean In Energy into a 501c3 organization.  After receiving numerous requests to donate funding to our chapter, I attended a global conference to connect with Lean In leaders worldwide.  I collected best practices and even met with the Lean In architect herself, giving Sheryl my daughter’s fidget spinner (you read why here) and confessing that she was my superhero for all that she has done for working women everywhere.


With that strong foundation in place, 2018 is going to be dedicated to growth, scale and engagement. Lean In Energy has secured working capital donations from Power Mentor, Linda Ibrahim and Vantage Drilling International, myself and Pink Petro. 


We're forming our Executive Advisory Board in the USA and Europe and in oil and gas, power, and alternative energy companies and our working board to fulfill the mission of circles, education and awareness.   A website will be launched in the new year and I'm even giving a portion of the proceeds from HERWorld Energy Forum to directly benefit Lean In Energy.   Big thanks to Yetunde Okediji, Jennifer Roth, April Sharr, Kate Sherwood, Colleen Layman, Marianne Robak and Linda Ibrahim for their time in helping to launch the organization. 


"Within the Lean In Energy community, mentorship is about more than younger people learning from others who are more experienced," Jennifer says. "What's great about a more expansive definition of mentorship is that if we accept that we can all learn from each other, every interaction is an opportunity for mentorship."



We'll announce the organization's leadership in the new year.


And with that, we are kicking off our 2018 fundraising campaign. Our goal: to raise $100,000 to support the mentorship of women and men in energy around the world.  We'll be sending out details in the new year on how to support us directly, but if you're keen before 2017 ends, get in touch with us.  


Mentors are vital to our professional development, but for all kinds of reasons, some still struggle to find them. Lean In Energy removes any barriers to mentorship and creates a community of support you can tap no matter where you’re at in your career.  If you haven’t already, we invite you to apply to Lean In Energy. And consider supporting us with a donation as we head into 2018. With your help, we can create a new future for energy built on the power and potential of women.

Women face a double standard that men don’t. Men are expected to be assertive and confident, so coworkers welcome their leadership. In contrast, women are expected to be nurturing and collaborative, so when we lead, we go against expectations—and often face pushback from men and women. The problem is that women need to assert ourselves to be effective. This “likeability penalty” often surfaces in the way women are described, both in passing and in performance reviews. When a woman speaks in a direct style or pushes her ideas, she is often called “aggressive” and “ambitious.” When a man does the same, he is seen as “confident” and “strong.”
When you hear a woman called “bossy” or “shrill,” request a specific example of what the woman did and then ask, “Would you have the same reaction if a man did the same thing?” In many cases, the answer will be no. When you’re having a negative response to a woman at work, ask yourself the same question and give her the benefit of the doubt. Odds are she’s just doing her job.
In a recent study of performance reviews, 66 percent of women received negative feedback on their personal style such as “You can sometimes be abrasive,” compared to less than 1 percent of men.
From our partner at Lean In Energy

From LeanIn.Org

Mentorship and sponsorship are key drivers of success, yet women can have a harder time finding mentors and sponsors, especially ones with influence. The good news is that we can mentor other women at any stage in our careers, and it pays off when we do. Women who are mentored by women feel more supported and are often more satisfied with their career.1

Use our tips to be the best mentor/mentee you can be, and remember, like all good relationships, mentorship is a two-way street.


Don’t ask, "Will you be my mentor"

If you have to ask a woman to be your mentor, the answer is probably no. Mentorship relationships start with a mutual connection—and mentors often select protégés based on their performance and potential.2 So shift your thinking from "If I get a mentor, I’ll excel" to "If I excel, I will get a mentor." Find a woman whose career path aligns with your goals and work hard to get noticed. For example, share your ideas for making a project she’s leading better or  volunteer for an initiative that’s important to her.''

Find a woman to mentor—it’s never too early

No matter what stage you’re at in your career, you can mentor another woman. If you’re farther along in your career, pay it forward by investing in a woman just starting out. And if you’re early in your career, find a woman who’s coming up behind you or a student who’s interested in your field. Don’t underestimate the value of your input—you may have just been through what she’s experiencing.



Your mentor’s time is valuable—treat it that way

Show your mentor you value her time by using it wisely. Avoid meeting just to catch up or asking questions you can find answers to yourself. Instead, come to her with thoughtful questions and be ready to discuss real challenges you’re facing. Then listen carefully to her recommendations and report back on your progress. She’s more likely to continue to invest in you if you’re acting on her input—and she sees the impact she’s having on your career.

Invest in your mentee's success

Commit time and energy to developing your mentee. Make yourself available and take the time to understand her questions and give her thoughtful and thorough input. Ask your mentee for regular updates. The more you understand her progress—and what’s working and what's not, the more effective you can be as a mentor. If she's not using your time wisely, be clear about your expectations and set guidelines for your time together. You'll both benefit from getting into a good rhythm.



View feedback as a gift

Women don’t always get the direct input they need to be their best selves because coworkers may be nervous about eliciting an emotional response.5 Make sure you don’t fall into this trap with your mentor. Solicit her feedback whenever you can by asking specific questions like, “How can I improve?” and “What am I not doing that I should be?” The more you ask for and accept her feedback, the faster you’ll learn—and odds are she’ll respect your openness and willingness to grow.

Give open, honest input—even when it’s hard

Direct, actionable feedback is a gift, but women often receive less of it. Look for opportunities to give your mentee specific input for improving her performance and learning new skills. Whenever possible, share your input in the moment, when it’s most effective. If you hold back to protect your mentee’s feelings, you’re not helping her. Remember, your honest feedback will help her advance more quickly.





Build trust with your mentor

Over time mentors can develop into sponsors who use their status and clout to create opportunities and make connections for you. Before your mentor will sponsor you, she needs to trust that you are reliable and a bet worth making. To build trust, always follow through on what you say you’re going to do and always do your very best work. When you’re consistent over time, you build valuable trust with your mentor—and your coworkers.

Don’t just mentor—sponsor!

The best mentors go beyond mentorship and advocate for their mentees. Start by understanding your mentee’s career goals, then think through her best path forward and how you can help. Endorse her on social media. Recommend her for a high-profile project. Introduce her to people in your network. Find ways to open doors for her and invest in her success.





  1. For a review of research see Carol T. Kulik, Isabel Metz, and Jill A. Gould, “In the Company of Women: The Well-Being Consequences of Working with (and for) women,” in Handbook on Well-Being of Working Women, ed. Mary L. Connerley and Jiyun Wu (New York: Springer, 2016), 189; Sarah Dinolfo, Christine Silva, and Nancy M. Carter, High-Potentials in the Pipeline: Leaders Pay it Forward, Catalyst (2012); K. E. O’Brien, A. Biga, S.R. Kessler, and T.D Allen, “A Meta-Analytic Investigation of Gender Differences in Mentoring,” Journal of Management 36, no. 2, (2010): 537–554,
  2. Romila Singh, Belle Rose Ragins, and Phyllis Tharenou, “Who Gets a Mentor? A Longitudinal Assessment of the Rising Star Hypothesis,” Journal of Vocational Behavior 74, no. 1 (2009): 11–17; and Tammy D. Allen, Mark L. Poteet, and Joyce E. A. Russell, “Protégé Selection by Mentors: What Makes the Difference?,” Journal of Organizational Behavior 21, no. 3 (2000): 271–82.
  3. LeanIn.Org and McKinsey & Company, Women in the Workplace 2015 (September 2015),
  4. Shelley Correll and Caroline Simard, “Research: Vague Feedback Is Holding Women Back,” Harvard Business Review, April 29, 2016,
  5. Ibid.
  6. Sylvia Ann Hewlett et al., The Sponsor Effect: Breaking Through the Last Glass Ceiling, a Harvard Business Review Research Report (December 2010), 9–11,

News reports and books keep getting basic facts wrong, misrepresenting tens of millions of people.


Myths about dads are keeping Mad Men structures alive, holding back women in the workplace, worsening custody battles, and creating all sorts of other problems that Josh Levs explores in All In.  So with Father's Day coming up, we're introducing Dad Facts -- a resource to get accurate information about modern parents, particularly the most misunderstood part of the modern family.

Just a few of the myths this site corrects:

  • That dads sit around while moms do all the work 
  • That dads don't have stresses and worries
  • That one-third of kids are fatherless
  • That most black kids are fatherless

And lots, lots more.  Please visit and share.  There's also a support button if you'd like to help keep the effort going -- and get signed, personalized copies of All In for Father's Day gifts.

Does hearing the term “work life balance” make you feel guilty? Many of my clients immediately share that they don’t ever feel they can actually achieve a “balance.” In fact, because they have conflicting priorities, they feel that no matter what they choose it is the wrong choice . . . when they are with family they feel they should be working, and when they are working they feel guilt for not being with their family.


Instead of “work life balance,” what if you used Sharon Lechter’s phrase (from Think and Grow Rich for Women): “Creating a Life of Success and Significance”? Or the idea of “Work / Life Integration”? You are ONE person with ONE life!


So, how can you flip this switch? How can you go from the idea of “balance” to “guilt free integration”?


  • First, be clear on your goals and priorities. Now, don’t misunderstand. Having clarity doesn’t mean everything will fall immediately into place. But, knowing what your priorities are helps you make choices.
  • Second, make the best choice you can in the moment about where you will spend your time.
  • Third, commit to owning that choice. In Lechter’s words, “Commit to be ‘present’ whether you are at home with your family or at the office. Instead of looking at choices you make as ‘sacrifices’, look at them as ‘investments’ in yourself, in your job or business, and in your family. Stop thinking of an eight-to-five workday, and start thinking about the twenty-four hours each day you have to sleep, work, and be with your family.” No guilt. Just be present where you are.
  • Finally, evaluate the effectiveness of the choice you made, so you have more data next time. The more informed you are, the better your choices will be in the future.


One of my clients recently shared with me that the biggest impact of our work together was the idea of throwing “balance” out the window and being OK with the choices she made in the moment. She “juggles” a family with two high school boys, a full-time job in sales, and owns her own business. Plus, she’s very involved in various community organizations. When she was working her job she felt she should be spending time in her business. If her kids called for something while she was working her business, she felt guilty that she wasn’t available. This circle went on and on and on.


Then she flipped the switch. She decided that when she made the decision of where to spend her time, she was going to own that decision. She is one person, and that person can commit to giving 100% of her focus and attention in the moment. Everything else can wait. Her stress level has reduced and her enjoyment of all areas of her life has increased!


The brain cannot hold a negative and a positive thought at the same time. So . . . when you feel guilt, that is all you can feel.


Create your strategy now to reduce the guilt!


And any time you want support in that strategy-making, call on me. You can absolutely achieve more without giving up your nights and weekends!

If you’re looking for a job, chance are that someone, somewhere will tell you that you need to “network.” While there is absolutely nothing wrong with networking, that term conjures up the unfortunate mental image of going to a college alumni event, wearing a nametag and holding a cheap glass of white wine in your hand while trying to strike up awkward conversations with a perfect stranger with their own name-tag and security beverage. 

Here are five ways to avoid (or at least postpone) that kind of networking:

1. Ask Your Network to Introduce You To Smart, Connected People.

When people say they got a job “through someone they knew” most of the time, they are not being literal. In other words, it’s not usually your first-degree connections that hire you. After all, those people are your aunt or uncle, or friend from college. However, it’s not uncommon for your personal network to be connected to someone else that is going to make a hire. Reach out to people in your personal network to tell them you’re looking for a job and would like to meet smart, connected people they know who might have advice to give you.

If you’re focused on a specific industry or job role that you’re breaking into, you can be more specific and ask for introductions to people who will share a bit about their career path with you. It’s more natural and easier to break the ice to get someone to take a meeting to share knowledge with you rather than set something up for the purpose of a directly asking them to help you get a job.

2. Don’t Just Follow! Develop Relationships Via Social Media.

You can use Twitter, LinkedIn, Instagram and Facebook here. Employers increasingly have a career presence on social media and understand that they will attract candidates through these channels. You can comment, like, retweet, and share content in order to “build a social media relationship” with your target connections. If your list is long (and ambitious) enough, and you have quality interactions, you will be surprised at both (a) how much you will learn about your prospective job, industry and employer but also (b) how one day someone will respond to your Direct Message/Inmail/Comment about a job opening that you are interested, or an idea you have for the company’s business.

3. Become the Connector. In Real-Life and Online.

It might sound absurd to add another “to do” to your plate while you’re already busy enough trying to get hired. But sometimes the most effective path to a goal is not linear.. In other words, use your new social media relationships and newly developed acquaintances to suggest connections for others. They are doing you a favor by spending time thinking about your job needs, or reading your social media content. Do them a favor in return by giving them ideas or new people to get to know (or follow, if this is a virtual relationship). This also makes it more likely that you and your needs (a new job) stays more top-of-mind in a couple weeks when the memory of your last coffee meeting has faded into the background. You want to stay relevant and one way to expand your relevance is to bring new people - followers, connections, resources, etc -- into these people’s lives.

4. Prepare Yourself to be Shameless.

Last but not least, broadcast your intentions. It may sound obvious, but nobody is a mind reader. If you’re using your personal network and social media to get your next job, that means you should not be dropping hints or beating around the bush. Tell your friends, family, ex-colleagues, and reasonably familiar acquaintances that you are looking for a job. Send them an email with the words “I’m looking for a new job” written clearly and at the beginning of the note.. And tell them again if you need to remind them over coffee or lunch! As difficult as it may be for those of you who instinctively hold things close to the vest, this is no situation for shyness or subtlety.

5. Don’t Stop Doing This When You Get a Job

If you’re about to land the job you’ve been wanting (or even a stop-gap, temporary gig while you keep looking for “the one”), don’t think that all the new relationships and social media effort goes on ice. Getting a job seems like a short-term goal, but with the average job tenure being less than 5 years these days for millennials, there is nothing “one off” or “temporary” about your job search. Face it: the situation is that most professionals these are days are almost all in a near-perpetual state of looking for their next role. Sure, you can tone down the rate of your emails and informational coffee meetings, and be less active on social media, but you should be wary of abandoning everything you’ve invested in. You never know when the next opportunity is going to come your way, and you don’t want to wait until you’re absolutely in a bind to start up that old engine again. Think of these efforts as a fitness routine for your career. You would never quite let things go entirely, even if you’ve hit a short-term weight loss goal so why stop cold-turkey when it comes to your career.

Source: Elle Magazine, FairyGodBoss Founders

Photo credit:Creative Commons

Hands down, Peyton Manning is a world-class athlete.  heres-what-it-means-when-peyton-manning-yells-omaha.jpg

In 2014, he threw his 509th touchdown against the San Francisco 49ers becoming celebrated as one of the most talented quarterbacks of all time.  In college he became the University of Tennessee’s all-time leading passer with 11,201 yards and 89 touchdowns and won 39 of 45 games as a starter, breaking the SEC record for career wins.

Manning comes from a lineage of sports talent with his brother Eli Manning playing for the Giants, Cooper playing for the Broncos and his dad, Archie, who played for the Saints, Oilers and Vikings.  The Manning legacy has been a winning one. 

Each of them possess something we all need more of: GRIT!

You know the old saying, it’s not about the score, it’s about how you play the game? 

I wish I could say it’s easy.  There have been athletes who’ve tried the ‘easy’ way and cheated to success and failed miserably.  True grit is how you get better in the game of work and life.

We all face bad days and games.   In 1998, Peyton’s rookie pro-football season, he threw a league high 28 interceptions as the Colts struggled to a 3–13 record with a defense that gave up more than 27 points per game. It took a few more years for Peyton to find his stride in the “pros” with a bumpy record until in 2003 he was named Most Valuable Player (MVP).

I look back on Peyton’s early career in the NFL and I liken this to my new seat as an entrepreneur.  I also liken it to my days many years ago as a new manager.  We all grow into comfort zones.   When we leave those comfort zones for the unknown, there’s a certain stride you have to rediscover as you learn the new game, and that comes with practice and grit. You only get better when you recognize you have to bring a new playbook to a game that has a new set of challenges.

Let’s break down GRIT.  For me, it looks like this.

G – Getting out there and playing ball. 

How many times have you said, “one day” or “someday”.  For years I told myself that story.  “I will pursue this one day.”  If you don’t get off the bench and play your first game, you’ll never get any closer to the goal.  This is the hardest part of doing anything new or undiscovered.  And women have a hard time embracing the notion they may fail if they try something different.  People can spend their entire lives on the sidelines watching or they can jump in get in the game.   Doing is far better than watching or worse yet, talking about it.

So what are you waiting for?  Get up and get out there.

R Roll with the punches.

Anything new is going to have its own set of unique challenges.  It’s like riding a bike.  You have to start small and grow your way through it.  When you fall off the bike or a play doesn’t work, don’t get discouraged.  Sometimes that means re-tuning and coming up with a completely different approach or sometimes it requires you re-defining the goal.  Ask yourself:  Why isn’t this working?  Has my goal changed?   Do I need to something different or involve other resources to help me?

I –  The center of grit is “I”. 

No one gives you grit.  You develop it within yourself.  It’s an inner muscle you grow with time and experience.  And, no one takes it away from you.  It’s yours to create or take away, so own it.  When you don’t own this muscle, it’s easy to spiral yourself into doubt.  Developing your inner strength means constantly asking yourself what you can do to become better and more consistent, leaving your ego at the door and then making the necessary changes.  Tell yourself, “I’ve got this.”   And then go get it!

T – Touchdowns aren’t limited to the endzone. 

Victories are simple and don’t require you run the ball 100 yards to the endzone to score.  You define them.  Ask yourself: What does success mean for me?  What does success mean for my team?  What does it look, smell, taste, and feel like?  Then go get it.

Success in football has been long defined by scoring points and winning games.  Peyton, Eli, Cooper, and Archie threw poorly and lost games.  But grit is what drove them to succeed.  The will to try, learn from mistakes and embracing an inner strength is what separates the men from the boys, women from the girls, and the successful from the side-liners.

Grit drives goals.

What does grit mean for you? 

Photo credit: Quarterback Peyton Manning #18 of the directs the offense against the Jacksonville Jaguars on October 13, 2013 in Denver, Colorado. The Broncos defeated the Jaguars 35-19. (Photo by Doug Pensinger/Getty Images)

We may not know everything there is to know about getting a job (who does?) but if there’s one thing we can count on, it’s how important connections are to landing the interview. You may have the perfectly designed and structured resume, but it means nothing if you can’t get it into the hands of the right person. The book “The Defining Decade” by Meg Jay taught us 5 lessons that every college girl should know when it comes to connecting to contacts in their industry.



Meg Jay advocates that our weak ties, people who aren’t necessarily our close friends, provide more value to our careers than strong ties, close friends who often offer emotional support. Our strongest ties are usually so similar to us in mindset and the way we communicate, we are unlikely to gain much capital from them. Therefore, it’s better to reach out to those who we aren’t as close with, as it requires us to communicate on a different level (think the way you talk to an acquaintance versus your BFF).



There’s a certain degree of stress and anxiety tied to the term “networking”. It’s become more of a skill that we feel needs to be mastered by joining an abundance of clubs, groups and becoming best friends with everyone we meet. Hold up. Networking doesn’t have to be stressful. In fact, networking can be as easy as taking your well-established Facebook stalking skills and putting them to good use finding alumni from your school and setting up an informational interview.



One of the best ways to put your networking skills into full force and get somebody on your team is to ask them for a favor. When you do a favor for someone, it convinces your mind into thinking you must be fond of them. Plus, there’s an unspoken helper’s high you get after being generous and doing something nice for someone. It’s a win-win for both parties, really.



This is one of the most essential stepping-stones in building your network, but it’s so difficult to do. Try to get business cards when you meet people so you’ll have something to reference in the future. Remember small details about them. You’ll be surprised how by simply remembering their name will make them feel special.



There’s a great measure of success to be had by simply showing a genuine interest in someone’s life. It’s a powerful statement to ask about someone’s endeavors, and better yet, remember them the next time you meet. It’s as simple as truly listening to what someone has to say, and asking the right questions. Social skills matter. Being kind will get you far.


Colette Killworth is an Editorial Contributor from California State Long Beach.
Major: Journalism
Her heart belongs to: Grand pianos, big cities and boyfriend jeans.
Her guilty pleasures: Dessert for breakfast, peonies, mimosas, Friends reruns and shamelessly hounding fashion blogs.


Photo by #WOCinTech Chat.

You didn’t have the luxury of that support, and still whenever the world told you no, somehow you knew to say yes.

Lean In Member | Sharon Poczter    

Dear Mom,

This is not as much a letter to you, as a proclamation to the world—because the world should know about being strong through your example.

You grew up in difficult circumstances, economically, socially—well, in every possible way. You were told “no” because you were a woman, and “no” because you were Jewish; really “no” at every juncture and for any reason (“no” being the nicest of the words you were told). But something inside of you motivated you, gave you the confidence to leave the country you were born in, and drag your reluctant husband with you. Something told you there was a better life out there for you and your unborn children, even if you had to start with nothing. So you moved to the U.S., where you would take care of not only your husband, but two mothers and a brother, all at the age of 23. Somehow you knew when others did not.

And even when you reached the U.S., you knew. Today people complain about sending a couple of resumes for less than optimal jobs, and you sent hundreds of applications ultimately for a job counting towels in a hospital, even though you had a college degree. But you did it, and did it with gusto, so that you could support a husband pursuing his dream to become a professor. You pushed your brother to pursue his dreams, and get a graduate education, too. Even though you pushed everyone around you to pursue their dreams and didn’t think to pursue your dreams instead, you never complained. Somehow you knew.

Two kids and years later, you were finally able to pursue a graduate degree, even though you still had a full time job. You worked full days, went to school at night, and still made time to come to my hat shows, school plays, and class parties (although you did always ask me to volunteer you for the napkins). You were a silent role model, never using your schedule as an excuse for a bad mood, or as an explicit method of getting us to work harder or study more. Without a true role model, advocate or mentor, you somehow knew that work-life balance was not a this-or-that decision, and you knew how to allocate your time wisely. You knew work was important, and so was family. You knew to always keep your foot on the pedal, at work and at home. Somehow you knew.

And today, you are an executive at one of the largest hospital networks in New York, one of the only women at this level in your field and one of the most accomplished. And even now, you still manage to make time to care-give. Now you spend a full day at work, then take care of the elderly in our family, then go home and take care of your husband, your two daughters, and everyone else in your life. And you do so with no expectations and total dedication.

Your daughters, both of us with graduate degrees, have excelled far beyond your or their wildest dreams. One of us is a federal judge, and the other an Ivy League professor. Mostly, our success comes from saying yes when anyone tells us no. Over and over again. Picking ourselves up when we fail. When no one else believes. I was lucky, because when so many people told me I would not make it, somehow you knew.

You didn’t have the luxury of that support, and still whenever the world told you no, somehow you knew to say yes.

Thanking you minimizes the impact you have made in my life. You are my moral compass, my rock, my leader, my best friend.

I hope you know what you mean to me, and how proud I am to be your daughter.

Love you,

Source: Quartz


Reverse mentoring, which involves younger employees taking senior managers under their wing, may sound like a new-fangled concept. But such schemes have been around for decades, with then-CEO Jack Welch introducing it at General Electric in 1999 to help his employees get to grips with the internet. But while reverse mentoring has typically focused on technology innovations, companies are now using such programs to help shift outdated sexist attitudes.


Consulting firm EY is one such company to try and update its culture through reverse mentoring, reports The Times (of London). As part of the EY scheme, 35-year-old director Sayeh Ghanbari has spent the past five years mentoring managing partner Adrian Edwards, with a focus on gender issues.


Ghanbari says she was a “little apprehensive” at first, but that Edwards was very committed, and set aside an hour a week for his mentoring. She decided to buy the coffee to signal their reversed roles, and allowed Edwards to bring up any of his questions or concerns.


“I decided it needed to be like any other mentoring and that therefore the onus was on my mentee to bring up what he wanted to work on and what he wanted to get out of the relationship rather than the other way around,” she says in an interview.


The two discussed broad questions, such as whether positive discrimination is right and if the firm should introduce quotas, as well as more personal questions about how to handle certain situations. Today, Ghanbari says that EY is a very different place than when she joined a decade ago. She once set Edwards the challenge of using his mentored learning to influence others, and says she’s noticed many other leaders doing the same. And she believes their meetings have helped develop Edwards’ perspective on diversity.


“I think he would say it was quite a big learning experience for him. I’ve noticed that Adrian’s made differences in the business. When he talks about decisions he makes, he does try and take a very different perspective and consider diversity issues,” she says. “We wouldn’t have carried it on for this long if it wasn’t valuable to him.”


Edwards is now part of a “Dads for Daughters” campaign, involving fathers of pupils at St Paul’s Girls’ School in London, in an attempt to challenge sexism at work. The campaign was founded after the school conducted a survey of pupils who graduated between 1998 and 2008, and so were now aged between 25 and 35 years old. Some 73% said they’d encountered gender inequality at work and, while most had attempted to make changes, 87% said they felt men should make a greater effort.


While it’s certainly not the case that all younger people are less sexist than all older employees, younger generations tend to have higher expectations for diversity in the office than those who joined the workplace decades before.


Of course, reverse mentoring is not a simple, one-step solution to sexism in the workplace. Corinne Mills, managing director of Personal Career Management, points out that a reversed power dynamic is “quite a tricky task,” and says that companies should also work to address prejudice with coaching and performance targets focused on the issue.


At EY, Ghanbari says reverse mentoring was introduced alongside other initiatives, such as mandatory full-day unconscious-bias training for all partners and staff. And while the reverse-mentoring program may not have any impact on employees who are maliciously sexist, she says it can be useful for shifting subconscious sexism, which is often difficult to address.


As one example of such casual prejudice, Ghanbari says she received an email this week where she was referred to as “he,” because the person writing did not know the gender of her name. “Does it matter?,” she says. “I think it does because it’s a reflection of the assumptions that we as individuals make unconsciously. And when you make assumptions about small things, you’re probably making them about big things.”


Alexa Scordato, director of product marketing at Stack Overflow and a proponent of reverse-mentoring schemes, adds that casual sexism adds up over time and can hold women back without them even realizing it.


It’s too easy to brush it off as “no big deal,” she says, but, “subconscious bias is a real thing and it affects recruiting decisions, business interactions, and the way women and minorities are perceived and portrayed everywhere.”


However, she points out that unless a company actively promotes diversity, reverse mentoring won’t make a significant difference. “Some of the most progressive companies don’t have reverse-mentorship programs. They simply embrace the idea that learning happens at all levels and that any employee, regardless of age, brings something special to the table,” she says.


But certainly, reverse mentoring can help older employees put aside stereotypes, and is a step towards turning ambitions for an inclusive culture into a reality.