Reverse Mentorship is a Boost for Inclusive Leadership

Lianna Balayan, Satenik Barseghyan

Jun 15, 2023 / 4 min read

Women comprise just 22% of tech positions across Europe, according to McKinsey. Yet , despite the glass ceiling, women in tech have managed to break through it time and again, proving themselves as leaders and transforming the world for the better. From Ada Lovelace, the first computer programmer to Radia Perlman who invented Spanning Tree Protocol (STP), foundational for internet networks, female tech pioneers have created a path forward for others. Encouraging more women to undertake technical careers and building inclusive environments for them to flourish is critical for our future.

Synopsys celebrates inclusion and diversity (I&D) and encourages it in our teams, pipelines, and candidate sources. We are constantly looking for new ways to bridge the gender gap in tech. Because of this, we recently introduced an innovative reverse mentorship program to foster greater diversity and inclusion, and to open more doors for women in tech.

Young happy programmers working in team while making a new computer codes on desktop PC in the office.

What’s a Reverse Mentorship?

Reverse mentorships are nothing new. They’ve been commonly used for intergenerational training within the tech industry and beyond—notably to help retain millennials through a seismic cultural shift in the way work gets done across generations. In this model of reverse mentorship, a newer member of the workforce advises a seasoned professional on strategies to attract and retain next-generation talent. The leadership expands their awareness of how work is changing, and the up-and-coming talent gains greater access and visibility to senior levels of the organization, as well as an expanded understanding of the business. It’s a win all around.

We used the same framework for the Synopsys Reverse Mentorship program but put a new spin on it. Rather than intergenerational, this reverse mentorship has a mission to foster greater gender diversity and inclusion at all levels of the organization through challenging established ways of thinking and approaches. Our mentors are emerging female leaders who are paired with male mentees who are more senior to them. The mentors coach the mentees on strategies to attract, retain, and elevate female employees. It empowers our mentees with a new frame of reference, and it encourages them to think differently about gender diversity. For mentors, it grows leadership capabilities, stepping out from the crowd to gain visibility throughout the organization.

Sherri McCue

“I wanted to step out of my comfort zone and put myself out there. I felt more like an equal to my mentee in this setting as I represent women in a technical field, so I know my opinions matter and felt that my mentee was able to listen and gain insight.”

– Sherri McCue, senior manager, Synopsys Solutions Group,
Reverse Mentorship mentor

Richard Kirk

“My mentor helped me to understand how I can improve…the careers of women within our team and attract more women to join Synopsys. We have established a brand-new Software Integrity Group EMEA Women’s Network to discuss ideas on how to help our female employees develop their careers….”

 –Richard Kirk, vice president of international sales, Synopsys Software Integrity Group, Reverse Mentorship mentee

The Nuts and Bolts of a Synopsys Reverse Mentorship

Reverse Mentorship was piloted in the frame of our EMEA Women in Leadership (WIL) program. We matched female leaders participating in the WIL program with senior male leaders in the region who agreed to participate and set a tone and example for innovative and inclusive leadership. Once matched, the mentors and mentees receive guidelines for the program and resources to support their journey. This includes discussion around mutual expectations for outcomes, how to recalibrate goals and actions, if needed, and more. At the kickoff of the relationship, the mentors and mentees work together to develop and agree on two short-term goals, and one long-term goal, all achievable during the program period of 6 months. After this, they work one-on-one to accomplish these goals. In the program’s first cohort, all meetings were held virtually because the eight mentor-mentee pairs were located throughout Europe. They represented different business groups to ensure a diversity of perspectives. The frequency of meetings varied, monthly or quarterly.

The Benefits of a Reverse Mentorship for Gender Diversity

The feedback on the program from our first cohort of mentors and mentees was very positive. Participants felt the program was highly effective and 9.5 out of 10 would recommend the program to others. Many participants also said they would continue the relationship with their paired partner to help achieve long-term diversity goals and to calibrate the ongoing progress of gender diversity and inclusion at Synopsys.

A wide array of tangible results from various mentor-mentee pairs are proof points of the program’s success. Some of these results have included:

  • A new EMEA Software Integrity Group women’s network
  • A succession plan for current staff within the mentee’s team, including a focus on hiring
  • A mentee that has engaged as an ongoing career coach for another female leader
  • A hiring practice review for a team that resulted in leveraging LinkedIn advertising to support greater diversity
  • A focus on increasing number of women presenting technical papers at SNUG conferences and encouraging more women to attend.
  • An updated university slide deck focusing on inspiring young women to go after careers in tech, along with an open-door policy with the university for future engagements.
  • The facilitation of discussion on I&D topics at mentee’s team meetings
  • And much more!

The greatest outcome is an overall ongoing commitment of all the participants to I&D. In addition, mentors reported that they are reaping the benefits of an expanded network and enhanced social capital. Both mentors and mentees say they have gained greater organizational knowledge and a better understanding of what it means to work on an important mission, such as diversity and inclusion, as a truly cohesive organization.

What’s Next for I&D at Synopsys?

Synopsys continues to invest in a future that both celebrates and embodies diversity and inclusion– not only through traditional learning and development activities, but through innovative programs such as a Synopsys Reverse Mentorship, GIRLS GO Engineering!WomenTech MentorshipSynopsys Returnship, and our employee resource group, Women in Network, and more.

We are currently organizing our next cohort for the EMEA Women in Leadership program, and are actively making plans to continue leveraging Reverse Mentorship as the key component of this program.

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