Are you looking to be promoted? Do you wish there were more women in senior management at your firm? Do you feel like you just need a tiny nudge, and then things in your career would be amazing? Well, my experience is that there is one ingredient missing … and it’s not that hard.
OK, this might sound harsh. But data shows that despite great advances in racial, cultural, and gender diversity in recruiting, the UPPER echelons of American business have remained stubbornly and disproportionately populated by white men. It’s true. And that’s despite research showing a wealth of talented, qualified, ambitious women and minorities clustered just below senior management.
This data suggests organizations struggle to identify, source, and promote diverse talent. For any business leader, this challenge represents a frightening and frustrating waste of potential talent and resources … and at the end of the day, it’s a competitive disadvantage. So what’s the missing ingredient?
A recent wave of research says the missing ingredient could be something that’s been around a while … though rarely discussed. Major studies from the Harvard Business Review and Catalyst have concluded that SPONSORSHIP, not Mentorship, is THE most critical factor in one’s career advancement.
Mentorship focuses more on the mentee’s personal development, which is fabulous. This focus, however, may ultimately distract from what is needed even more … THE ACTIVE PROMOTION OF TALENT.
So I offer up the idea of Sponsorship, which in many ways is the opposite of Mentorship. Sponsorship is based on the presumption that the Protégé’s potential and skill are already there so the energy is spent on advocacy and networking exposure, THE most crucial components to promotion.
Now, I am sad to say that Sponsorship does not seem to come naturally to most women. We are too busy, it seems fake and awkward, or we are not willing to put our reputations on the lines for others. For women to harness the power of Sponsorship, we need to understand it is not just something people do in secret to butter up management for their buddy.
SO WHAT IS A SPONSOR?
A Sponsor is really someone “with clout” who can actively and publicly advocate for someone. Sponsors usually, but not always, work at the same company as their Protégés and know them pretty well. Sponsors actively … and without embarrassment or shyness … leverage their own influence to promote their Protégés’ advancement, visibility, and connection to senior leaders.
The primary role of a Sponsor is not to develop their Protégé but rather place them in positions that maximize their talent and exposure. And I am sure it’s NO surprise that having a high-level Sponsor has been shown to be a powerfully effective tool for career advancement.
THE PROBLEM WITH OLD-MODEL SPONSORSHIP
I want to be very clear. Sponsorship is not new. It occurs everywhere, but usually inconsistently and below the radar, shrouded in mystery. It suffers from a kind of self-selection bias that tends to disproportionately exclude minorities, women, and new employees.
Various studies explain why Sponsorship is so heavily skewed towards white men with several practical, psychological, and organizational factors in today’s business environment. Women should understand these factors so we may correct for them:
- First, the most basic human psychology dictates that people tend to be drawn to others who look and act like them. Since most executives with the clout to be effective Sponsors tend to be white men, it is then human nature that they would be more likely to form close Sponsorship relationships with others of the same race, cultural/economic background, and gender.
- Next, women and minorities may be reluctant to seek out Sponsorship relationships because we don’t want to attract undue scrutiny, spawn peers’ resentment, or be perceived as “selling out” our culture.
- Lastly, the Hewlett Study found that women are much less likely to seek out Sponsorship than men, because we tend to feel that leveraging relationships is fake and unfair. AND because truly effective Sponsorship usually indicates a close working and often social relationship between the Sponsor and Protégé, men and women alike tend to fear that cross-gender Sponsorship may be seen inappropriately.
OK. So now the question is HOW DO WOMEN NATURALLY SPONSOR OTHER WOMEN?
5 WAYS TO TAKE THE LEAP AND SPONSOR
- Actively and constantly look for ways to CONNECT women to others that can support them in their current job, project, goal, and company … and then stop and TAKE THE TIME TO DO IT.
- Recently, I connected Liz Bohannon, Founder of Sseko Designs, with Charity Wallace, Senior Advisor to Mrs. Laura Bush. It occurred to me that what Sseko is doing in Africa would be interesting to Charity as she helped organize the Symposium for African Spouses hosted by First Lady Michelle Obama and Former First Lady Mrs. Laura Bush at last week’s U.S.-Africa Leaders Summit. The outcome was that Sseko was majorly featured and in fact, a company video was the intro to the First Ladies event.
- Unabashedly and assertively ALERT a protégé’s senior management when they do something well … DON’T BE SHY.
- I just love it when women I know from the real estate industry get involved in 4word. Last week, I had the chance to let the most senior management of CBRE know that Kellie Hill, one of their team members who is also a 4word woman, did an awesome job on our weekly radio show “Mentoring Mondays with 4word” on Rick Tocquigny’s Life Lessons radio. The CEO of CBRE wrote Kelli back thanking her for her great work, exposure she was unlikely to get on her own!
- COMMUNICATE openly and confidently with your Protégé’s peers about what they are doing well, have accomplished, and are launching … because women aren’t always great at SELF-PROMOTION.
- Well, I’ve been blessed that connecting people and proactively promoting them to others comes naturally to me. Again, a few weeks ago I had the opportunity to promote Dad, Here’s What I Really Need From You, the new book from Dr. Michelle Watson, a 4word woman, to all of 4word and many in her region of the country. Michelle has received a warm jump start to her book, something for which all authors pray.
- RECOMMEND women for open jobs when you see a great potential fit … often it just takes you GIVING SENIOR MANAGEMENT THE IDEA.
- I’m always on the look out for people looking for jobs, for open jobs, and the opportunity to sponsor someone. My mentee this year in the CREW Mentor Program wanted to get a job with a large tech firm in Silicon Valley. It just so happened that the global head of real estate of THAT very firm is a friend of mine, so I connected them via email and voila, she got the job … a job she is more than qualified for but would probably have never had the chance to interview.
- Proactively PUT SKIN IN THE GAME because we must risk some of our own hard-earned capital to become a Sponsor. It means putting ourselves on the line for the sake of someone else … so JUST DO IT.
- If you’re anything like me, you’re not going to take that risk lightly but look for the opportunity. When I was with Cassidy Turley, Shelley Radomski was my mentee. It was clear she had amazing skills with the ability to work with almost anyone. As the new CEO took over, I put myself “on the line” by pitching Shelley as his perfect CAO. He moved her into that role, which put her in the perfect position to take over as COO earlier this year.
Because we are busy and so intent on being genuine and beyond reproach, women don’t always enter into Sponsorship roles. When we can step into that role, talented young employees gain access to the experiences, training, and networks necessary for successful advancement. Once Sponsorship becomes less of a mystery, women will be more likely to proactively seek it out.
WHAT’S IN IT FOR ME?
Sponsors have much to gain by getting out there and just doing it. Shortly after I started with Cassidy Turley, I identified a need for a new management position. Even though I hadn’t been with the company long, I’d had the chance to work with a talented young woman in one of our other offices and knew she had the skills that would be crucial. I lobbied to get her into the position, and she has excelled. It’s satisfying to know that I served the company well AND helped advance a talented future leader. It also helped me establish myself in a new professional environment.
Effective Sponsors also gain a reputation as discerning leaders that are invested in talent development. They increase their knowledge of company needs and opportunities, learn from employees at every level, and gain leadership skills that can further enhance their own careers.
So, why NOT? Get out there and SPONSOR SOMEONE THAT IS WORTHY OF YOUR SKIN IN THE GAME!
To begin your journey of Mentorship and Sponsorship, join the 4word Mentor Program now! The deadline for the fall session is September 5, 2014, so start the application process now!