Who is the most powerful person you know, who would be willing to vouch for your work and help you secure a promotion? Is it a peer? Your manager? Maybe it’s your manager’s manager. Having someone in a senior position who is willing to publicly advocate for you to help you advance is sponsorship.
Why is sponsorship critical?
The data on women’s representation at leadership levels is clear: across all industries, the more senior the role, the fewer women there are to be found. Although women represent over half the UK workforce, they only hold around 29% of senior management roles. This diminishes at increasing levels of seniority, with women holding a mere 5% of CEO roles in the biggest public companies in the UK, 6% in Australia and 7% in the US. In fact, in the UK there are more male CEOs called David or Stephen in the FTSE100 than there are female CEOs. The equivalent is true in Australia and the United States, though in Australia you’re more likely to be called Andrew or Mike, or in the US, John.
The reasons for this are nuanced (see my blog on The 3 barriers holding your career back and what to do about them) but at least part of the problem is a lack of sponsorship. While research tells us that women receive plenty of mentoring, according to research by The Center for Talent Innovation, senior level men are twice as likely as women to have a sponsor. And that sponsorship is what makes all the difference in getting ahead.
What exactly is sponsorship?
Many people can support your career: coaches, mentors and sponsors all have an important role to play in your development. Whereas a coach will help you to raise your self-awareness to achieve your development goals, a mentor shares their knowledge and experience. A sponsor goes one step further in creating opportunities and championing your potential.
Sponsorship is effectively an extension of a mentoring relationship. Whereas a mentor will provide advice, support and share their experiences, often this is a private relationship. They won’t necessarily introduce you to influential people, speak publicly about your achievements or give you access to prized assignments. That isn’t always within their gift to do. For that, you need a sponsor.
Sponsors use their power and influence to help you achieve the high-profile assignments that get you noticed, and help you advance your career. They advocate on your behalf, champion your achievements and will help protect and defend you from reputational damage.