11 Oct 2018 09:11

More informed decisions through reverse mentorship initiative

In December last year a reverse mentoring initiative started where members of SEB's Group Executive Committee were paired with a few of the bank's millennials to gain new perspectives. For Mats Torstendahl, head of Corporate & Private Customers, and Maria Bernstål, sales manager for the SME segment, it was a good match.

Initially the mentoring was to focus on digitalisation, which was one of the reasons why Maria Bernstål chose to apply when it was advertised on the intranet.

“I have worked a lot with transformation and digitalisation in my area, so I thought I could make a contribution,” Maria says. “Then I saw it as an opportunity to create a network, not only with members of the GEC, but also with the other mentors.”

The mentorship pairs were then created based on their interests and work areas within the bank. Neither the mentors nor the mentees had any say in the matching, and even though Mats and Maria knew of each other, they had not been acquainted previously.

“I found out that Mats would often give away a book when invited to a dinner, for example, so I decided to give him a book at our first meeting. It was Get Digital or Die Trying, which was spot-on.”

Gender equality, digitalisation and collaboration

A year has now soon passed since the mentoring began, and for Mats it marked the start of a journey of change.

“Our talks have shed light on a number of important issues. During the year, gender equality issues have been in focus, and it has been incredibly valuable to learn about Maria’s perspective and experiences as a young woman in the bank,” he says, continuing:

“Among other things we have discussed how we can support women to advance in the bank and take on new challenges in order to be eventually considered for positions on the management teams. It is important to do the ground work in order to create change.”

Other issues discussed during the year included digitalisation, cross-functional collaboration and company culture.

“My meetings with Mats have given me a great deal of energy. He has been down-to-earth, very receptive, and has taken notes. It really feels like what I have to say is making an impact,” Maria says.

The dialogues have resulted in Mats occasionally making different decisions than what he perhaps may have done prior to his meetings with Maria.

“Above all it has helped me make more well-informed decisions in certain situations,” he says. “It is impossible to have individual dialogues with all 15,000 employees. One of the strengths of mentoring is gaining insight into the organisation, and Maria represents a part of it.”

Exchange is crucial

During the mentoring, Maria and Mats have chosen the frequency of the meetings where they share knowledge themselves. And it is precisely this exchange that is important to emphasise, according to them both.

“When you talk about mentors and mentees, it sounds a bit hierarchical,” says Mats. “Ours is a joint mentorship that is based on trust, where both give and take, which hopefully makes us a little wiser.”