Sponsors Matter

I found Sylvia Ann Hewlett’s recent article on sponsorship in the New York Times interesting, but missing the last piece of the puzzle.   As I’ve written and talked about, sponsors are distinct from mentors, and critical for career advancement, especially for women and minorities.  It’s harder to find sponsors than mentors, because sponsors typically have more power in the organization than mentors, and there are fewer sponsors by definition because there are limited power positions in every organization.  The good news is that most senior leaders in positions of power have developed the ability to cultivate and sponsor proteges — making sure their proteges are recognized for their skills and abilities, considered for key assignments and opportunities, and connected to key players.  In exchange, proteges must deliver excellent work, always, on behalf of their sponsors.  The catch is that once people have advanced far enough within an organization and are consistently delivering excellence, how do they attract a sponsor?  While Hewlett notes that sponsorship is a two-way street (excellent work in exchange for sponsorship), she offers no solution for the big problem:  senior leaders, who are often white men, typically turn to the proteges with whom they are most comfortable, which is often other white men.  How can organizations make sponsorship more transparent and accessible?  I’m looking forward to specifics on steps that work in providing sponsorship opportunities for everyone who is qualified.

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