Women's History Month blog image 02.2024 V1

Women’s History Month 2024: Empowering through Reciprocal Mentoring

In March, we celebrate Women’s History Month, which encompasses International Women’s Day. This year's theme, 'Invest in women: Accelerate progress,' led us to delve into the insights of Allison Newell, Executive Director of Strategy, Performance, Business Development, and Growth, along with her Reciprocal Mentoring partner, Michelle.

The Reciprocal Mentoring for Inclusion programme is tailored to match colleagues with unique lived experiences with senior leaders, bringing an exchange of knowledge, experiences, and skills. Allison and Michelle share their reflections on the positive impact of this programme and how it has enriched their professional journey.


I feel extremely lucky to have been involved in the NHS Business Services Authority (NHSBSA) Reciprocal Mentoring programme and to have had the opportunity to work with a most fantastic partner and colleague.

When I started on the programme, I knew that I wanted to learn directly from a colleague on our Disability and Neurodiversity Colleague Network as I wanted to better understand as well as appreciate what it meant for colleagues from their lived experience, and I hoped I might be a better person from investing time to get to know one of my colleagues, and through their eyes see what I could do to help and support them more.

As we come to the end of our assigned time, I can truly say it has been one of the best work and life learning experiences I have had. The benefit of investing this time meant we could explore, ask, be curious, and seek to understand on both a personal and professional basis which has been quite profound. I have learnt so much from my partner Michelle, I cannot thank her enough for investing in me and I hope in a small way I have helped her and others through my investment in this brilliant partnership programme.

There are so many things that I have learnt and really benefited from - here are just some of the highlights for me:

  • Truly starting to understand and consider things from Michelle and others' perspectives - by partnering with her, being able to share her and others' lived experiences offered insights and viewpoints that I had not considered enough before simply because I did not know. Our time together enriched my understanding of the various issues and situations people must have to navigate and plan for day in and day out
  • By listening and in turn better understanding I believe I have in both my home and work life been able to improve and enhance how I approach and think about solutions. The collaboration my partner and I developed meant we could draw on both our lived experience and networks which brought unique solutions to the table, we were able to openly offer each other different perspectives and approaches that I know I would not have considered - seeing things from different perspectives was, for me, very powerful
  • Improving and changing how I think about things, and how I communicate - throughout our time together I feel we really engaged with each other, we actively listened and we heard each other. I learnt more from Michelle than I can do justice to in this blog, and I know I actively foster a more inclusive and supportive work environment because of this experience, and it has also positively impacted my personal life
  • It has increased my empathy and comprehension - my partner and her experience allowed me to walk in her and others' shoes and I gained insight into her challenges, triumphs, and perspectives. This awareness and insight heightened my empathy and has led to a strong relationship and a commitment by me to drive an even more inclusive workplace
  • Even greater promotion of diversity and inclusion - actively partnering with Michelle on her and others' lived experience, really helped me champion the different needs of colleagues and people, way beyond what I had been aware of before. While I have been a champion of valuing and respecting diverse voices, cultures and experiences, I believe I am ultimately more able now to contribute to a more equitable and inclusive organisational culture. I also now have a trusted colleague and network I can draw on if I need more expert insight
  • Professional and personal growth - investing in and engaging in this lived experience has not only enabled me to grow personally and professionally, but I have shared what I have learnt with wider colleagues, family, and friends. It also provided me with an opportunity for self-reflection and learning about myself, which in turn helped me better understand some of my new work and life norms, which was quite unexpected but welcomed
  • It brought more innovative thinking and solutions - it really opened my thinking on how we might bring more inclusive innovative solutions to the NHSBSA which I continue to share. This experience has helped me consider more creative approaches within the NHSBSA, which I hope in turn helps better support our people, our teams, and the people we serve
  • It built a sense of trust and camaraderie - by working together and demonstrating a genuine interest in understanding and learning from my colleagues' lived experiences, I believe it helped us develop a great relationship and a robust foundation of trust and psychological safety to learn from

I could go on and on in terms of how this investment in time with a colleague has brought a multitude of benefits to me- a big and sincere thank you to Michelle - know you truly made a difference.


Like Allison, I feel very fortunate to have been chosen to take part in the NHSBSA Reciprocal Mentoring programme and would thoroughly recommend it to anyone.

I went into the process with fire in my belly, hoping to change the world of work for the benefit of others by sharing my lived experience as a parent, carer to a neurodivergent 10 year old, and as someone who is highly likely undiagnosed neurodivergent myself. It has been a privilege to have shared my experiences with Allison, who has been so eager to learn and such an attentive listener. I know that she will carry this with her and be a strong ally to our disabled and neurodiverse colleagues.

What I hadn’t really thought about, and couldn’t possibly have imagined, is how much I’d gain from it professionally and personally.

Professionally, I was a bit stuck in a rut career-wise. I had so much going on outside of work, that I was feeling worn down and had allowed my own aspirations to take a back seat. I knew I was ready for a change but both lacked the confidence to make a move and was unsure which direction to go in. Through the conversations we’ve had, Allison has really built my confidence back up and I can’t thank her enough for that. This has enabled me to be confident enough to explore potential new roles within the organisation – I would never have done this without Allison’s support.

Personally, I’ve gained a friend, in no small part thanks to being paired with such a generous, open and honest partner as Allison. It feels somewhat serendipitous that we were paired together at the right time, and I know that we’ll keep in touch long after our mentoring sessions end.

And on that note, as this round of reciprocal mentoring draws to a close, I’d like to thank our Leadership Team for investing time into the programme, the magical partnering pixies for matching me with the right mentor at the right time, and most of all Allison for being such an engaging, generous and inspiring partner.  

Allison and Michelle have hugely benefited from the programme and in this case, particularly demonstrate the importance of investing in women. As we celebrate their achievements, let’s continue to advocate for initiatives that invest in others and make a difference.