Insight

The Impact of Sponsorship on Women’s Careers

There was a beautiful period of my career a few years ago. I was working on a team with a leader who I admired both personally and professionally. She was not only incredibly competent at her job, but was also kind and dependable, focused and caring. During the roughly three years that I worked under her, I was constantly learning and developing new skills, being invited to work on stretch projects and gaining exposure to senior leadership. My future was so bright that I needed sunglasses. When I received an offer from a competitor that included a 50% raise, she fought to get me close to parity so I could stay. I was thrilled to accept a raise that put me below the rate that was offered by the competition because they could not provide me with a mentor like her. Then it happened, her dream job came calling and I could not follow (security clearances).

She did her best to ensure that the path she had worked to create for me in the company remained open, but it did not last long without her sponsorship. The company that I worked for was lean, so choice roles were limited and competition for them was fierce, without her advocacy I was lost in the shuffle. The leadership there knew that I was highly capable and well regarded by my peers, so they threw me into positions that were “difficult” or less desirable by others. I found myself leading a team whose day-to-day responsibilities were completely foreign to me. Suddenly, without changing companies or roles, my job was now completely draining. I was no longer fulfilled with my work, and no one seemed to care much. What is worse, is that leadership acknowledged that I was capable and ready for greater responsibility, but they just could not or would not find a role. I felt as if I was treading water.

It was clear to me that for the time being, I was stuck in my situation. The only way for me to make the best of being thrust off my desired career path was to ensure that it did not happen to my younger colleagues, and to be a voice for them. It was my turn to be a mentor and an advocate.

I dedicated myself to removing roadblocks and providing support for my team. In my check-ins with senior leadership, I spent most of my time discussing the strengths, weaknesses and growth opportunities for my team members. I focused on creating a clear path forward for them in the organization and enabling training opportunities. In my meetings with my mentees, we focused on their goals and aspirations, and the gaps in skills we would need to close to get them there. Two of my mentees even received company wide recognition for their incredible work ethic and contributions. At one point, I even found myself jealous of a younger colleague, who was assigned to a project I would have desperately loved to have. I took that as a sign that I was doing right by my mentee and preventing the roadblocks that stopped me from impacting her. However, this was not enough, and I eventually left the company to pursue work that would allow me to take advantage of my degrees, certifications and the skills taught to me or developed by my mentor.

Why am I writing about this for International Women’s Day? While there has been great progress in mentorship programs and leadership development for women, we are still lagging in executive positions. In the United States, just 8.2% of CEO positions at Fortune 500 companies are held by women.[1] And the recent global pandemic has caused a disproportionate impact on women’s careers. We tend to mentor and sponsor those who remind us of ourselves, so on this day of celebrating women’s contributions, challenge yourself to reach out and extend a hand to not just mentor, but sponsor a junior colleague who may not talk, think or look like you. After all, it is in your own best interest to have talented, motivated, and capable people in your organization. Sometimes all it takes is remembering to speak up for those less visible when they are not in the room.  For those of us lucky enough to have a shining example of the impact an invested mentor can make, strive to be that for someone else, and pay it forward!

 

Source:

  1. Connley, Courtney. A Record Number of Women Are Now Running Global 500 Businesses. 2021, https://www.cnbc.com/2021/08/02/a-record-number-of-women-are-now-running-global-500-businesses.html.
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