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Diversity in Sponsorship Creates a Competitive Edge

Posted August 20, 2013 by Ferne Sofio in On the Ladder
Executive level men and women are needed to support and advocate for the advancement of women and minorities into leadership positions. They need to actively sponsor individuals, these initiatives, and formal affinity groups in organizations.

In the July article Development or Advancement? sponsorship was described as a professional relationship that takes mentoring to the next level. An important distinction from mentoring is that sponsorship requires a relationship with a senior level manager or executive who also has influence among decision makers.Additionally, unlike mentor/mentee relationships, a sponsor selects the protégé.The sponsor does more than provide advice and feedback to the protégé. Sponsors use their positions of influence among senior leaders to:

  • Advocate for their protégés’ advancement
  • Provide access to their own professional networks
  • Provide strategic career guidance
  • Protect their protégés from undue organizational or political harm.

In other words, sponsors make advancement happen. 

Why More Sponsorship Diversity?

Mentoring and sponsorship relationships among the same race and gender typically provide the psychosocial support women and people from ethnic backgrounds need in the workplace. When two individuals share a variety of attributes, including attitudes, interests, physical characteristics, personality traits, aptitude, and socioeconomic status, they tend to enjoy working together more.

However, (like it or not) for men and women of all ethnicities a mentoring or sponsorship relationship with a more senior white male is likely to yield the greatest advancement opportunities and compensation packages. College graduates who established mentoring and sponsorship relationships with a white male earned over $16,000 more per year than the peers with mentors from other demographic backgrounds and were promoted more quickly to higher levels within the organization.

In organizations with existing mentoring programs, creative approaches and change management strategies can create the foundation to build the leadership pipeline that capitalizes on the value diverse backgrounds provide at all levels of the organization. The information provided by mentees and mentors could be better leveraged within organizations to increase the number of women and minorities in senior leadership positions. A mentoring program creates value in an organization, but sponsorship is vital to the advancement of high potential individuals from diverse backgrounds.

A Case for Sponsorship Diversity

Employees and their intellectual capital are an organization’s most valuable asset and the key to sustainability. A huge leadership gap is expected as baby boomers retire and as technology and culture change at their rapid paces. Mentoring and sponsorship can drive business impact by sharing knowledge, promoting diversity, creating a continuity of culture, and develop a large pool of leadership talent to prepare junior employees for senior leadership positions. The unfortunate reality in many organizations is women and people of ethnic minorities are underrepresented among the ranks of the corporate elite.

During the past few decades, the demographics of the workforce have changed drastically. Diversity provides organizations with different viewpoints and experiences from which to draw. It also allows organizations to be more agile and adept when responding to environmental changes. However, when women and minorities are underrepresented in key leadership positions, organizations are apt to lose their competitive advantage in a rapid-paced environment. When these employees do not believe they have opportunities to advance to senior levels of the organization, women and minorities are likely to leave the company after a period of years for opportunities in organizations that do. The cost to the organization can be significant when patterns of turnover exist.

The long-term sustainability of an organization is the responsibility of managers at every level of the organization.

About the Author

Ferne Sofio

Ferne Sofio believes in strengthening organizations and communities by developing people. For over fifteen years, she has mentored people young and more experienced to help them unlock and reach their potential. She values the unique qualities that make us different knowing we are much more alike than different. The analytical side of her brain aligns initiatives with organizational goals and key strategic drivers. To pursue her passions and begin a new chapter in her career, Ferne acquired a Master’s Degree in Organizational Leadership. While the majority of her career was in marketing, management, and sales. Today, she leverages her experience, education, and strengths as a Training and Development Business Consultant in higher education. This role is a tremendous opportunity to build strong teams and impact organizational culture. She also connects people in business and industry with training and education, which have the power to transform lives.