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Why does Sponsorship matter?

A lot of the conversation around sponsorship has tended to focus on the advantages from the Sponsee perspective, yet there are enormous gains for the Sponsor in the relationship also. In fact, maybe it has been overlooked purely because it is expected that to be a great leader you need to sponsor top talent. As this article Be A Sponsor, Be A Leader points out, no one gets to the top alone and by being a sponsor you can gain loyalty and allegiance from the top talent in your organisation. The article also points out the following 5 key steps in the sponsor journey:

  1. Know who to sponsor – look for and nurture exceptional talent
  2. Recognise and leverage protégé strengths – they should bring skills or abilities to the table distinct from your own
  3. Help protégés grown, advance, shine – champion your protégés and take an active role in their progress
  4. Build reciprocity and trust
  5. Have skin in the game! – sponsorship is a critical skill-set for any leader.

Sponsorship is particularly important for women as historically women have more than enough mentors but are only half as likely as their male peers to have a sponsor. As this article The Real Benefit of Finding a Sponsor discovers, many women fail to cultivate a sponsorship relationship effectively. “Many feel that getting ahead based on “who you know” is inherently unfair”. Women generally tend to believe that hard work alone will get them the reward and recognition they deserve. In this article Why Men Still Get More Promotions Than Women; the author shares a case study from Deutsche Bank:

Internal research revealed that female managing directors who left the firm to work for competitors were not doing so to improve their work/life balance. Rather, they’d been offered bigger jobs externally, ones they weren’t considered for internally. Deutsche Bank responded by creating a sponsorship program aimed at assigning more women to critical posts. It paired mentees with executive committee members to increase the female talent pool’s exposure to the committee and ensure that the women had influential advocates for promotion. Now, one-third of the participants are in larger roles than they were in a year ago, and another third are deemed ready by senior management and HR to take on broader responsibilities.

This is a powerful example of an organisation that investigated and recognised an issue with losing female talent, and did something positive to rectify the problems internally.

It has been widely publicised how Sheryl Sandberg of Facebook utilised a sponsorship relationship to catapult her career. It is not enough she advises, for a woman to put her self-doubt aside, grab hold of ambition and aim for the top. A woman needs someone to “lean in” with her. With a sponsor leaning in on a woman’s behalf she is more likely to put her hand up for a new opportunity or to seek a raise.

While sponsorship can’t be forced, it can be made more transparent and accessible to high-potential employees. Encouraging senior executives to become a Sponsor and giving them the skills to be effective in the relationship is key. Xplore’s workshop Sponsorship, does just that.  You can read more about this workshop in our next article. Catalyst produced this paper Maximizing Mentoring and Securing Sponsorship, which accentuates the importance of sponsorship to the individual as well as the organisation when approached strategically.

Organisations need to make their expectations that leaders sponsor top talent is clear. That it is something that good leaders do and is built into the framework of career advancement within the company. They also need to communicate successful sponsorship outcomes to make it widely accepted throughout the organisation.

This paper Supporting careers: mentoring or sponsorship? by Workplace Gender Equality Agency (WGEA), lays out some helpful points for implementing sponsorship in the workplace:

  • Consider whether to develop informal or formal relationships
  • Focus on design of the sponsorship program
  • Consider the organisational context that may impact the career progress of women
  • Remember that it is not just the protégés who benefit
  • Articulate and communicate the intended outcomes of a program
  • Understand that there is a continuum of relationships that can emerge
  • Ensure that sufficient information, support and resources are available
  • Make sure that programs are available to all.


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