UN PRI DEI action areas for investors: Reverse mentoring to shape an inclusive corporate culture

16 / 10 / 23 - 5 minute read

Each journey begins with a single step – a sentiment attributed to Chinese philosopher, Lao Tzu. Anyone tasked with executing change management at an organisation should regularly bear this in mind. Whilst benchmarking against your targets is essential, it’s important to recognise where you’ve come from and celebrate the small victories along the way.

Acting responsibly has always been an important part of how we do business at PATRIZIA. In this spirit, we are increasing our focus on advancing diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) – an area in which we recognise we are at the beginning of our journey, with big steps still to take.

In our continued efforts to make a meaningful difference in the communities where we live and work, we are focusing our DEI efforts on our external business model and services, and equally on our internal corporate culture, in line with UN PRI’s DEI action areas for investors. By putting our people at PATRIZIA first, we are setting our business up for success.

And the research included in UN PRI’s DEI report supports this theory, as the link between an inclusive corporate culture and financial outperformance is strong. For instance, cognitive diversity in investment teams can substantially enhance decision-making, problem-solving, risk management and innovation, as teams work to more accurately represent and understand end beneficiaries. Similarly, an inclusive culture promotes employee engagement and helps attract and retain the best talent.

Defining an inclusive culture

It is important to note that these benefits of diversity are only fully realised when inclusion is part of an organisation’s culture. Being more diverse does not guarantee performance improvements unless the experiences of individuals are positive. Unmanaged diversity can even be harmful to a company’s effectiveness, resulting in below-average performance of monocultural organisations.

Yet, managing the multitude of perspectives that our multicultural and multigenerational workforce at PATRIZIA brings to the table can be challenging. What is clear, however, is that an inclusive culture will not be achieved through minimal adjustments to existing policies and processes or through commitments and statements. It requires a systemic approach, bringing together a variety of voices – individuals, community groups, HR policymakers and executive sponsors – and placing those most affected at the centre of the conversations.

Measures we are building in collaboration with our PATRIZIA DEI council include:

  • setting representation targets in line with article 111 of the German stock corporation act;
  • offering all-company awareness training;
  • developing inclusive end-to-end recruitment practices;
  • amplifying employee voices through resource groups;
  • running regular employee engagement surveys; and
  • implementing talent and development programmes.

What we have learnt across our interventions so far is that inter-personal connection is key for systemic change and this has led us to champion the value of mentoring.

The power of mentoring

Mentoring can enable meaningful connection between two people where, traditionally, a more experienced professional (mentor) gives help and advice to a less experienced professional (mentee). At PATRIZIA, we are using this approach in formal programmes to empower early career and female talent to overcome personal barriers to progression, e.g. skills and knowledge gaps.

“Reverse mentoring is, by its design, flipping the status quo on learning, listening and engaging."

Lisa Kepinski, DEI expert

All those on our early career mentoring programme were promoted during or shortly after completing it compared to only 63% of early career professionals who did not go through this route. We were also shortlisted as the most dynamic mentoring organisation 2022/23 within the prestigious Moving Ahead and 30% Club Mission Gender Equity mentoring scheme, which supports around 2,000 female talents each year to advance their careers across the world. In 2023/24, we will be ambassadors of this scheme.

While we recognise the positive impact of traditional mentoring on overcoming mentees’ personal barriers to progression, we are convinced that it is reverse mentoring that lays the groundwork for the needed systemic change for a truly inclusive culture. This notion is supported by DEI change-makers, Lisa Kepinski and Veronika Hucke, who supported effective DEI system change in organisations such as the UN, AXA, and Barclays, and are now also advising our Executive and Management Committee at PATRIZIA.

“A lot of DEI work is about taking a different perspective – one we don’t think of automatically,” says Veronika. “Reverse mentoring is a great way to do just that.”

By putting a junior professional into the expert role, the senior professional gets exposed to lived experiences of another generation, fostering cross-generational understanding, breaking down hierarchical barriers and motivating broader cultural change.

Lisa adds: “Reverse mentoring is, by its design, flipping the status quo on learning, listening and engaging. This is based on humble leadership and empowering all to speak up – something that all organisations can benefit from, and which supports a culture of psychological safety.”

Driving DEI system change through reverse mentoring at PATRIZIA

Like other companies in the financial sector, such as Deutsche Bank, Allianz or AXA, we will trial reverse mentoring, in a programme we have titled ‘UnThink’, and turn the familiar paradigm around. Starting this month, the wisdom and know-how of our senior leaders will be met with the fresh perspectives of our rising talent over a nine-month guided experience.

In the programme, self-nominated members of our Management Committee will get mentored by our rising talent on what makes an employer of choice. In a combination of regular 1:1 discussions between mentoring pairs, expert masterclasses, all-cohort check-ins and self-study time, four key company culture topics will be discussed

  • New Work
  • Industry trends
  • Wellbeing
  • DEI.

The goal of UnThink is a win-win for both sides: our leaders can gain valuable insights on how to make our company, our brand and their leadership style fit for the future. And our rising talent makes exciting contacts and can test their skills in communication and knowledge transfer in a safe environment.

But how will we ensure that UnThink will instill a drive for broader systemic change for an inclusive culture? Here are our pledges:

  • We will match pairs (where possible) for diversity in personalities, departments and regions to allow exposure to fresh perspectives for both sides.
  • As the relationship between mentee and mentor will not start organically but through a formal matching process, we will reinforce trust and authenticity in the relationship, as advocated by leadership expert, Herminia Ibarra, by encouraging pairs to meet in person whenever possible and providing them with trust-building activities throughout the programme.
  • Research from Harvard Business Review shows that without training, only one-third of mentor-mentee relationships succeed, which increases to two-thirds with training. We will ensure strong commitment from both sides through live training and curated self-instructed e-learning resources.
  • We will ensure that delegates define clear action items during the programme on how to drive change after the programme has concluded.
  • We will measure indicators which suggest barriers for progression are being overcome, e.g. promotion rates of the mentees and psychological changes at different stages throughout the mentoring journey. Also, we are committed to continuously improving the programme based on delegate feedback over time.
  • We are keen to implement a sponsorship program for the most engaged mentees at the end of UnThink. While mentoring involves someone talking to you for knowledge- and experience-sharing, sponsorship goes one crucial step further, as detailed in this article, and involves someone with position and power talking about you to decision-makers at critical moments for career advancement and opportunities allocation.

While we recognise that driving effective DEI systemic change is a challenging journey, we at PATRIZIA are committed to walk the path until DEI is the default in our organisation, industry and wider society.