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Why Women Benefit Most From Career Sponsorship

Updated: Sep 5, 2023

by Jenny Tucker

We all need advocates in life. But, in business, research shows that women reap more success in their career if they have the support of a dedicated sponsor. Unfortunately, there can still be a gender bias when it comes to this endorsement of expertise. A study reported in the Harvard Business Review revealed that women are typically advised to change and adapt their behaviour to progress in their roles, while men are given more opportunities and encouragement to take charge of their careers. That’s why sponsorship for women is essential. And when compared to traditional mentoring, it’s advantages are far more beneficial for a number of reasons…

1. It's not just sharing the knowledge; it’s sharing the power.

Mentors are great at imparting revelations about their skill set and how they advanced their own career, but a sponsor is more grounded in action. They will use their power to influence access to the most senior level circles, open doors to promotion and make introductions to crucial networks. The relationship between the sponsor and sponsee is focused around promoting inclusive behaviours. The sense of having someone alongside is crucial, and there is a commitment to growth which ultimately helps minimise the career gap for women.

2. Being proactive builds confidence.

When a sponsor invites their sponsee to actively engage in attending key meetings, speaking up, leaning in and building their reputation, the simple process of ‘doing’ helps to grow self-assurance. There is plenty of research around mentoring that suggests it can often be an ego-stroking process for the mentor, with little long-term benefit for the recipient. The more equal unity of the sponsorship pairing encourages agreed shared goals and expectations. There is a sense of ‘being in this together’, and a solid belief that the sponsor wholeheartedly has the back of their protégé.

3. There is a deeper level of understanding.

For sponsorship to be successful, both parties need to know each other well, appreciating common aims and identifying limitations. The accountability for success sits with both, and while a sponsor may be the more experienced of the two, there is mutual learning to be had. The ultimate success of the two-way relationship may help the sponsee to thrive, but the legacy and reputation of the sponsor is also at stake. Often, successful sponsorship relationships continue way beyond the end of a designated program, and its impact can be life-changing.

4. Trust is at the core of the sponsorship relationship.

There are many human traits which influence this unique connection: humility, courage, generosity, vulnerability, perseverance… but without trust, the commitment to making this relationship successful cannot happen. A deep belief of allegiance to the common goal and co-operation from both sides is essential. It would be naïve to think that hurdles do not occur along the way, but with trust in place, these difficulties stand a chance of resolution. And research shows that when a woman feels she has a trusted advocate, she is more likely to take risks and try out different roles and re-location.

5. Failure is supported.

Sponsorship helps women to tolerate failure better and to believe their career will not be ruined if they put a foot wrong. Having a supportive infrastructure encourages them to persevere and see any mistakes as a learning curve rather than a crushing disaster. An emotionally intelligent sponsor will be able to discuss what could be done differently next time and encourage their sponsee to dig in and use their growing leadership skills to manage adversity.

6. Leaders become better leaders.

The development of both people in this partnership is multi-layered. Not only do the sponsees broaden their perspectives and capabilities as potential executives, the experienced sponsors also accumulate a deeper level of emotional intelligence and people management. By working closely as an advocate for another, they are pushed to understand the nuances of this relationship, while building curiosity, connection and consideration.

7. Sponsorship positively influences company culture.

Power sharing across the business can benefit and change organisational cultures, while also promoting diversity and inclusion. As individuals become more empowered, the ongoing effect throughout the business means systemic change takes over and the need for sponsorship programs ultimately decreases.

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