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What Can I Do to Sponsor Someone?

After our last workshop on sponsorship, one of our Fellows courageously asked someone to be their career sponsor.

To her surprise, they said yes.

Thank you to this anonymous person for choosing to sponsor our Fellow, this is a very practical and evidence-based approach to addressing the balance in senior leadership and supporting greater diversity (see for example Ann Hewlett: The Sponsor Effect). 

Sponsoring someone who looks differently from you, for example from a group that is less represented in senior leadership such as black working mothers, is one of the most practical ways to advance equality. 

The sponsor asked the Fellow: what exactly should I do to sponsor you? 

I was so inspired by this Fellow and her sponsor that I committed to write a list of ideas for her sponsor, hopefully, this is useful and feel free to let me know of any ideas you have!

Top 8 ideas of what a sponsor could do for you:

  1. Provide air cover so you can take perceived risks: do you want to try a new flexible working arrangement that has never been done before in your department? Your sponsor can back you when you are not there: “I know Shanna will make this work”.
  2. Share what keeps senior leaders awake at night at the moment: there are some things that are on senior leaders’ minds that most staff aren’t aware of. If you know what they are, you will make a positive contribution and get noticed.
  3. Blind spots: give you really candid feedback on the readiness for that next role and let you know what blind spots you have, i.e. what things you need to develop for the next role that you are not aware you are lacking.
  4. Opportunities to get seen: are there conferences you should attend? Are there meetings you should present at? Are there awards you should apply to?
  5. Connect for coffees: if there is something you are working on, do they know someone you should meet with for a quick virtual coffee to further your thinking? Remember, it is the second-degree connections that make the best career progression.
  6. “S/he’s good”: when your name comes up in conversation, state their confidence in you.
  7. Inside information: where appropriate, give you information that only a select few know that might affect career progression opportunities – e.g. that a new department will be created soon that will need a leader or that what the board really wants is more research proposals.
  8. Budget: if relevant, give you inside tips on how to access pockets of unused budget for your idea which the budget holder is keen to get used before the financial year deadline.

Don’t forget:

  • Research shows sponsorship is really important for career development, especially for women and ethnic minorities (see Sylvia Ann Hewlett’s book Forget a Mentor, Find a Sponsor)
  • As we discuss on the Leaders Plus Fellowship, Sponsorship is reciprocal: it only happens when you give a lot to the sponsor, too.
  • You can get a sponsor without officially asking for the sponsorship relationship, it also works without the official invitation to be a sponsor. 

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