The Sponsorship Culture

15th Jul 2013

Reasons to impliment a sponsorship programme.

One of the most common complaints that we hear about gender balance initiatives is that they do little to create culture change. Without a change in corporate culture the rate of women's progression to board positions will remain slow. 

We speak to many frustrated senior women who tell us that although their companies have good intentions about their advancement there is little evidence that programmes such as women’s networks have much influence on the number of women in senior positions.

 However one initiative that is making a difference is Sponsorship. Sponsorship is best described as a system, which  ‘pulls ‘rather than ‘pushes’ women up the corporate ladder. Where those in the majority advocate on behalf those in the minority. 

When implemented correctly a sponsorship programme enables women while at the same time exposing senior male leaders to more a more diverse management skill set.

So far so good. So why isn’t everyone doing it? 

Well, a sponsorship programme is not without it’s own challenges. 

There is currently a dearth of strong sponsors, with reports of women being turned away once a reputable sponsor has two existing sponsees. A sponsorship relationship must be initiated with rigorous ground rules avoiding some of the inevitable male /female power-play dynamics that scare many companies off. Once a programme is up and running it requires careful management to ensure that planned and shared objectives are achieved. The bottom line is, that unless sponsorship becomes part of the success criteria for the leadership team it will not be valued. The success of the sponsor must be directly linked to the success of women that they are advocating for.

Many companies including Credit Suisse and American Express have successfully implemented sponsorship to increase diversity and a recent report from The Centre of Talent Innovation* provides others the benefit of their learning.

With an emphasis on the symbiotic nature of sponsorship the report outlines the roles and benefits to both the sponsor and the sponsee. When well managed a sponsorship relationship will benefit the careers of both parties, in turn benefitting the company, which of course has a positive impact on the culture.

At Beacon Women we talk about growing a talent pipeline of sponsors, how companies can build the ranks of senior leaders who are willing to change the way they work in order that women are moved up more easily. Fundamentally, not everyone makes a good sponsor although some of the relationship skills required can be learnt having the added benefit of these skills being transferred elsewhere in the organisation.

By cultivating their own team of sponsees senior leaders are increasing their own professional capacity. These leaders have the advantage of accessing a more diverse skill set within a network of trusted and invested relationships. Because sponsorship often works across divisions the leadership legacy of sponsors has a greater reach and impact.

While a sponsor seeks opportunities for his sponsee in turn the sponsee will support and enable the sponsor.

Uniquely this gender initiative creates a landscape for potential female leaders to meet and interact with senior male leaders. Where women are invited to sit at the table and be seen as part of an inner circle. There has been much written about how women fail to plan their careers properly, during sponsorship career strategy is put front of mind.

Sponsorship is an active and dynamic relationship, which ultimately benefits all those involved as well as the company that supports it. 

Author: Joanna  Barker : Beacon Women Ltd

* The Centre For Talent Innovation Report: Sponsor Affect 2.0:Road Maps for Sponsors and Protégés.


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The Sponsorship Culture