When it comes to changing the corporate landscape and elevating historically excluded workers, sponsorships are one of the strongest levers business leaders and people managers can pull.
When Catalyst President and CEO Lorraine Hariton started her career, she was privileged enough to have a supportive manager who would now be recognized as a workplace sponsor. Unlike mentors who tend to offer support navigating existing workplace dynamics, sponsors break down barriers and unlock doors for talent. In Hariton’s case, this manager made things easier by securing a placement for her at the local branch near her home when she was pregnant. He also held a position vacant for eight weeks when she was on maternity leave. This was over 20 years ago, at a time when parental leave benefits were nonexistent, and the notion of any leader, let alone a male leader, holding the job open for expecting mothers was virtually unheard of.
Having a sponsor like that enabled Hariton to advance her career. That is the power of sponsorship. It enables people, especially individuals from historically excluded groups, to receive advocacy and career advancement opportunities “beyond what is possible by virtue of talent and performance alone.”
In this way, sponsorships are important in closing equity gaps.
How Can Sponsorships Address Equity Issues?
Women outnumber men at almost every educational level and hold over half of all professional-level jobs, and yet they make up only 24% of senior management roles and only 3% of CEOs. Looking at women of color, those figures drop to 9% in senior management roles. And, on the whole, people of color are consistently excluded from senior leadership positions.
Sponsors have an opportunity to raise awareness and advocate for more internal equity, as well as bring visibility to their protege and their work. For example, JPMorgan Chase actively empowers women to excel in their careers through Women on the Move, an initiative focused on recruiting and retaining more women for all levels, in addition to helping women ascend to senior-level roles across the firm. Head of Global Equity Capital Markets Liz Myers shares: “I always encourage people seek both mentors and sponsors. If someone comes to me, they will never leave without me introducing them to someone else, even in another area, even if they’re not looking for a new job.”
For more junior workers, having someone willing to leverage their professional capital to unlock doors increases the likelihood of an expanded professional network, higher pay, and greater career advancement opportunities.
How Can I Be an Effective Sponsor?
In our experience at Grads of Life, there is no single right way to be an effective sponsor. However, we have observed that the most effective sponsors prioritize relationship-building by going beyond transactional interactions. Focus on holding genuine conversations with your protege. Be transparent about the information you need, get their buy-in, and discuss different options to effectively champion your protege. Most importantly, don’t be afraid to go beyond your protege. Sometimes your protege’s manager can be your best ally in learning about your protege’s work, and at other times, it might be insights into their projects.
Why Should My Organization Invest in Sponsorship Programs?
We know sponsorships are crucial for career advancement. Employees with a sponsor can earn up to 11.6% more than their unsponsored colleagues. On the other hand, managers and executives who serve as sponsors also benefit, and are 53% more likely to advance to the next level of leadership.
But what’s in it for companies?
At Grads of Life, we believe a sponsorship program is a powerful way to signal a company’s commitment to diversity, equity, and inclusion and to break down barriers that have historically prevented underrepresented groups from achieving leadership roles in the workplace. Sponsorship programs can set underrepresented groups up for success through action-driven guidance from people of influence within the company. Further, they can increase employee retention, create a pipeline of leaders, and ultimately lead to greater business growth through shared learning and engagement.