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Industry Contributor 2 Sep 2019 -

What's 'reverse mentoring'? Ask young talent - they'll have 17 jobs

By Jane Waterhouse, General manager - Story54

This month’s issue of Company Director magazine article fronted by the strategically attention-grabbing headline ‘Reverse Thinking’ caught my eye. The full read delivers an expanded view of ‘Reverse Mentoring’, with a skew to how it benefits younger staff in building their confidence. Although this is not its intention, I think it holds some answers to the ageism topic that is plaguing our media industry.


Key points:

  • By 2030, every single job across the economy will be transformed with the dynamic workplace of change (a young person is predicted to have 17 different jobs across their career lifetime)
  • The answer to addressing our skills supply/demand issue is to rethink the way we share knowledge and develop skills
  • Young people are our ‘submarines’ – our early warning systems for changing social and cultural norms
  • Having a young mentor under 30 is a must for anyone over 45

Firstly, Reverse Mentoring is not an entirely new idea. Pre-colonial Aboriginal communities lived and worked in a multi-generational kinship, which sought balance between all things. It seems to have also worked for over 40,000 years, until we stuck our noses in. More recently in business General Electric’s Jack Welch populated Reverse Mentoring in 1999 and PwC rolled it out in 2014 . The primary aim for RM, was to keep the senior leaders “down with the kids” so they stayed relevant. 

Turning to the Australian media industry, the 2018 Agency Circle reports that only 3% of all agency staff are over 50, so it’s fair to say there probably isn’t a lot of Reverse Mentoring going on (however, I am happy to be corrected).  As ageism and diversity is the topic du jour, I am always interested in how we maintain and (god forbid) attract even more 45-70 year olds to our industry and move towards a more fluid and inclusive structure.  One small step would be to introduce a KPI mandatory for all staff over 45 years old to do eight hours a month of reverse mentoring with a gen Z, Y, or X. Topics ranging from what opportunity TikTok presents over Snapchat, the latest Facebook algorithm that is about to disrupt a business, emerging tech and influencers are valuable information to keep more mid-aged people in our business.

Cross-generational work systems with flat structures are the future and business is changing. Interestingly last week, in a statement from the Business Roundtable — an association of chief executives of nearly 200 companies, including Apple, Amazon, General Motors and Walmart — declared that the era of soulless corporatism was over:

"The Business Roundtable once held that a corporation’s “paramount duty” was to its shareholders. Now, the Roundtable is singing a new, more inclusive tune. A corporation, it says, should balance the interests of its shareholders with those of other “stakeholders,” including customers, employees, suppliers and local communities. In other words: no more Mr. Terrible Guy." Farhad Manjoo writes in the New York Times.

Add to that the Kellogg Institute's report that shows the most successful startups in Silicon Valley are started by people over 45.  The next major digital innovation that rocks your business could come from an ‘elder’, so they’re definitely not worth dismissing.

I yearn to see more 73-year-old Chuck Porter’s (of the award winning creative powerhouse Crispin Porter Bogusky) beaming down the Skype link at the recent AdWeek, still creating world-first thinking and completely entrenched and active in his award winning agency business.  I remain hopeful that we won’t reverse that.

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Jane Waterhouse, General manager


Jane Waterhouse is the General Manager of Bauer Media’s Story 54 – Bauer’s commercial storytelling division for women which was named Mumbrella’s 2018 content company of the year.  Jane is the former CEO of We Magazines, publisher of The Hoopla, and Managing Director of marketing and publishing company Sister. Waterhouse has also held senior editorial roles and marketing roles at ACP Magazines on titles such as The Australian Women’s Weekly, Woman’s Day and Weight Watchers and Business Director  and Group Account Director roles at The Campaign Palace, DMB&B and VCD.
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