Sponsorship Called Key to Women's Rise to Executive Suite

Susan Hall
Slide Show

10 Negotiation Tips for Women

Tips from "A Woman's Guide to Successful Negotiating."

I've seen several articles touting women's leadership styles using tools such as dialogue and engagement rather than more bruising methods, such as this post by Vineet Nayar, CEO of HCL Technologies, on Harvard Business Review.

 

Our Don Tennant wrote that traits such as caring, compassion and transparency, typically attributed to women, could become more important in the workplace as social media become more ingrained in business. (I've also reported, though, that being described with such words by your references could be detrimental to your career.)

 

In a separate Harvard Business Review article, however, economist and author Sylvia Ann Hewlett writes that the magic password to the C-suite for many women has been finding a sponsor. Hewlett's also president of the Center for Work-Life Policy, which released a study, "The Sponsor Effect: Breaking Through the Last Glass Ceiling." She writes

What's been holding women back, the study found, isn't a male conspiracy, but rather a surprising absence of advocacy from men and women in positions of power. Women who are qualified to lead simply don't have the powerful backing necessary to inspire, propel and protect themselves on their journey through upper management. Women lack, in a word, sponsorship.

She also explains that a sponsor's far different from a mentor:

"The Sponsor Effect" defines a sponsor as someone who uses chips on his or her protege's behalf and advocates for his or her next promotion as well as doing at least two of the following: expanding the perception of what the protege can do; making connections to senior leaders; promoting his or her visibility; opening up career opportunities; offering advice on appearance and executive presence; making connections outside the company; and giving advice. Mentors proffer friendly advice. Sponsors pull you up to the next level.


She said women with a sponsor are more likely to ask for a stretch assignment or to confront a boss to negotiate a raise. The study also found that women underestimate the benefit of having a powerful backer and tend to find the whole "who you know" aspect distasteful. So they soldier on, thinking that their hard work alone will get them to the top.

 

Unfortunately, the article does not really address how to gain such a sponsor. And then there's a real wrench in the whole works:

[the] toxic assumption that sponsor relationships between powerful men and their female protegees must involve sexual favors.

As one commenter pointed out, many men will not sponsor a younger woman because they're concerned about how such a relationship would be perceived.

 

Our Rob Enderle also wrote about another key to leadership success: a strong No. 2.



Add Comment      Leave a comment on this blog post
Feb 2, 2011 2:21 AM Dani Ticktin Koplik Dani Ticktin Koplik  says:

Having influential allies within an organization can be beneficial for everyone but I don't think that sponsorship, per se, is the answer to women's struggle to get to the top. 

True that women may underestimate the value of sponsors but they also underestimate the value of forging powerful professional relationships of all kinds.  There's plenty of anecdotal and empirical evidence that says women have a propensity for thinking hard work will get them ahead and, in so doing, they sidestep  developing important relationships. The truth is that influence is the currency of business and women need to learn a host of skills that will enable them to bank it themselves.

Also, real sustained change must come from the inside out which means that sponsorship ultimately would be a temporary fix. A few years back, it was thought that implementing institutional initiatives such as flex time, telecommuting, emergency child care, etc was the answer to women's professional frustration and abdication but in the end, the numbers didn't change.

So, similar to the programmatic fix, the sponsorship fix doesn't have embedded the imperative for women to develop the skills to help themselves which only perpetuates the cycle of dependence. Besides,  it doesn't take into account the itinerant nature of modern careers: what happens when  a sponsor leaves for another position or retires? What happens when the woman changes companies?

Granted, we can all benefit from institutional help and professional boostering but ultimately, it's critical that women learn  to manage and boost themselves. True parity depends on it.

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