BW’s reverse mentoring programme

5th April 2023

In this conversation, we hear from Maddison Cottle-Barker, Commercial Manager at BW, and Anthony Brown, Sales and Marketing Director, about their experience with reverse mentoring, the importance of recruiting young talent in the construction industry, and how Dolly Parton is an exemplary female role model.

Can you give us more details about your reverse mentoring program?

Maddison Cottle-Barker: Anthony asked me to be his reverse mentor after a workshop we attended together. It’s an exciting challenge as I have not been part of a scheme like this before. I think it’s a positive way for the board to learn about what’s happening on the ground of the company.

Anthony Brown: The idea behind reverse mentoring ties in with BW’s three layers: inclusivity, net zero, and innovation. During our monthly meetings, Maddison and I discuss a range of topics related to business and leadership.

Why is reverse mentoring important from a business/leadership perspective?

Anthony Brown: We have a few reverse mentees at BW, and we align on topics that are important to us, such as employment, performance management, and recognition. It’s essential to establish ground rules, such as the senior person not cancelling the sessions, and fostering vulnerability on both sides.

Maddison Cottle-Barker: Vulnerability is crucial to the reverse mentoring process. It provides an opportunity to get to know members of the BW board and understand how the company is run. I appreciate how accessible the board is, which is a testament to the company’s culture.

What are the sorts of things you’re learning in the reverse mentoring sessions?

Maddison Cottle-Barker: One thing I have learned is the challenges the board faces in terms of running a business: how to respond to the needs of different people in the business.

I understand you have been discussing ways to recruit more women, can you share some of these?

Maddison Cottle-Barker: Raising awareness of the opportunities for women within construction; the opportunity to study and work full time for example and communicating the range of roles within departments such as quantity surveying, design management, marketing and business development.

Why is this a priority for BW?

Anthony Brown: It is one of BW’s business priorities to better represent the society we live in within our workforce. We need to widen the pool within which we’re recruiting, especially in terms of young people, especially as the number of that generation entering the workforce dwindles.

What was your journey to BW and the fit-out industry?

Maddison Cottle-Barker: My career journey hasn’t always been linear. I studied at SOAS for two years before deciding not to continue. Construction was always an obvious option as both my father and stepmother trained as stonemasons. I think the commercial manager role suits my skill set: you must deal with many different stakeholders, be organised and diplomatic, and of course, love spreadsheets!

Have you ever had to overcome a difficult situation in work because of your gender? 

Maddison Cottle-Barker: Sometimes initial relationship building has the potential to be challenging, I think you might have a little bit more to prove.

What would be your advice to a younger woman thinking about starting a career in the construction industry?

Maddison Cottle-Barker: Be yourself, don’t try and fit in and keep your core values and principles.

What women have inspired you the most? 

Maddison Cottle-Barker: Dolly Parton is an inspirational figure to me, she’s entirely self-made, she’s stayed incredibly humble, and does so much for charity – she played a pivotal role in the coronavirus vaccine research.

Anthony Brown: For me, it’s Sarah Lloyd-Hughes. She founded a company called Ginger Leadership Communications, where I completed my six-month inspiring speakers’ course. She continues to inspire me because of her energy, confidence, and unflappability.