Johnson and Ramsay meet regularly to "level out the playing field" in the company ©Daniella Cesarei
Johnson and Ramsay meet regularly to "level out the playing field" in the company ©Daniella Cesarei

Facilitating diversity through reverse mentoring

Reverse mentoring can facilitate learning, collaboration and diversity. And at law firm Clifford Chance one procurement pro is taking a lead

Danielle Ramsay, senior procurement manager at magic circle law firm Clifford Chance, wants to be a role model. “If a young black girl walks through the doors at Clifford Chance, she will see someone in a relatively senior position that she can connect with instantly, because we look similar,” she says. “I want to give her that feeling of: ‘if she can make it, maybe I can too’.”

She recognises the importance of that feeling all too well. “I remember feeling very awkward at times [at school] being the only black girl in my year, so if I can be that bit of comfort for someone else, that’s a great thing.”

Ethnic diversity is rising up the business agenda, mirroring the way in which gender diversity has become a discussion at every credible board table. The government-backed Parker Review, which published its full report on ethnic diversity on UK boards in October last year, found more than half (51%) of FTSE 100 companies did not have a single person from an ethnic minority background on their boards and has urged listed companies to pledge ‘one [ethnic minority board member] by 2021’. 

It’s a subject that is also of importance to many procurement professionals and CIPS members. As Shamial Afzal, head of supplier relationships and risk management at Prudential, and part of the CIPS Fellows of the Future programme, says: “We shouldn’t lose sight of the fact we are under-represented across the piece.” This year sees the launch of a new CIPS Supply Management Award category celebrating the best procurement diversity and inclusion.

For Ramsay, getting involved with her firm’s BAME (black, Asian and minority ethnic) network steering committee has led to the launch of a number of innovative initiatives, including a reverse mentoring scheme. Reverse mentoring involves the pairing of a younger, more junior colleague with a more senior member of staff, in order to facilitate cross-generational learning and collaborating. At Clifford Chance, the scheme pairs members of the BAME network with business and legal practice leaders.

“We were trying to help people be more mindful of [their unconscious bias] on an on-going basis,” Ramsay explains. “It means people can engage with senior managers who they might not engage with day-to-day. It helps challenge and educate those in more senior positions on various subjects, such as what it’s like to work at a magic circle law firm and be a minority.”

She adds: “I live in a multicultural neighbourhood where I am not a minority, but when I walk into Canary Wharf, I turn into that minority statistic. It’s about raising awareness and allowing people to understand the impact that has, and challenging them on ways we can change that.”

Ramsay herself acts as a reverse mentor to the firm’s general manager for London, Alistair Johnson. They meet up officially every other month (in addition to working together on lots of other projects) to discuss BAME issues and how to engage the wider business in the agenda. Of the relationship, Johnson says: “It’s helped me be more confident when I’m talking to others, particularly when it comes to diversity. Reverse mentoring provides a useful opportunity to think about how to have a positive impact on those around me.”

Ramsay feels there is work to be done on raising awareness among the BAME community of the kinds of jobs available in business services, such as procurement. “It’s not just about bringing the talent through the door, but keeping them,” she says. “What are we doing to support their careers?”

When it comes to procurement specifically, raising awareness of ethnic diversity is helping Ramsay to “level out the playing field”, she says. Rather than “going for the big guns” and excluding smaller business, it opens up conversations around supplier diversity and development.

“I'm often the only woman around a negotiation table, and on top of that the only black person,” she says. “[That makes me] sensitive to ensuring the process is as fair and inclusive as possible. Diversity brings more ideas and enhances creativity. It allows you to differentiate yourself at a time where competition is high. In procurement it’s not just about savings any more, it’s about doing things smarter, being more efficient and being clever with the budget you have. Having more diversity allows you to tap into that a bit better.”

Johnson adds that he could see such an approach becoming an important part of the procurement process. “Reverse mentoring also helps you see the world from a fresh perspective, which is a powerful tool,” he says. “I think there’s scope to introduce it to our suppliers as part of our procurement process – unconscious biases can easily slip into any decision making. Reverse mentoring helps guard against this.”

Having more diversity in procurement departments themselves can only help as soft skills become more important, Ramsay believes. “If you want to engage a wider portfolio of people, you need to have a diverse workforce. And there’s demand from our clients; they want to see us engaging with more diversity. There are many benefits, we just need to make sure we are executing it in a way that will stand the test of time.” 

 

BAME supplier diversity

Procurement’s role in bridging the internal and external gives the function a unique opportunity to prioritise diversity both in its teams and across the supply chain.

Mayank Shah is CEO of non-profit MSD UK, which aims to increase BAME diversity across supply chains. “If your procurement team is looking for value for money and the best solution, they need to explore every available option,” he says. “Working with underrepresented groups like ethnic minorities is good practice. By including more BAME-owned businesses in your supply chain, you are making your supply chain more competitive and accessing new ideas, talent and innovation.”

BAME-owned SMEs face the same challenges as all small businesses when dealing with large corporates, alongside some additional barriers. “They are most likely [set up by] immigrants who are not actively part of mainstream networks,” Shah explains. “The biggest barrier is access to supply chain opportunities, and visibility.”

Shah uses the mantra “what gets measured, gets done”. “If procurement policies are written with inclusion as key aspects, there will be a more conscious effort to reach out to those underrepresented groups. Have a written inclusion strategy.”

He also advises putting diversity and inclusion into the performance reviews of sourcing teams, to make sure the procurement process is as inclusive as it can be, and working with networks, which can provide access to entrepreneurs from ethnic minority backgrounds.

 

Create a more inclusive workplace culture

As a manager, there are several steps you can take to creating a more inclusive workplace culture. Here are a few to get you started, according to Business in the Community’s race equality director Sandra Kerr, recruitment firm Bramwith Consulting MD Saffa Ayub, and CIPS member Shamial Afzal

– Think about your unconscious bias: everyone holds some prejudices yet few of us are aware, and they may be affecting decision-making when it comes to recruitment and talent development. Larger organisations may offer training you can take advantage of, and if not there are free online tools you can try, such as Harvard Business School’s Project Implicit (online at: bit.ly/Projectimp)

– If you are recruiting for your team, think about how you can attract more diverse talent. Ayub advises: “Simplify job specs and make them more generic, as women and ethnic minorities are less likely to respond to jobs they feel they aren’t 100% qualified for.”

– Consider being involved in a mentoring or reverse mentoring process, either within or outside your organisation

– Find out your organisation’s policy on racial bullying and harassment and communicate that to your team members

– Suggest appointing a senior diversity champion to help raise the number of BAME people progressing to leadership roles

– Engage with any diversity networks without your organisation to develop your understanding of issues faced by employees from different backgrounds. Talk to people from different backgrounds. If you don’t know where to start, Business in the Community’s Let’s Talk About Race pocket guide can help

– If you're interested in starting a BAME network, Afzal advises: “Reach out to HR and ask if there are any formal networks in existence already. There will almost certainly be a women’s network so work with them to leverage their approach on how to build an effective network. Rest assured you will not be a lone voice: there will be lots of people thinking what you are thinking and wanting a voice; be that voice.” Afzal is exploring setting up a BAME network for CIPS members and facilitating a number of roundtables. Anyone interested is encouraged to get in touch.

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