03 April 2024

The Importance Of Sponsorship For Women's Career Advancement


Have you ever wondered why the ascent to leadership for women seems like an uphill battle?

As the business world grapples with the scarcity of women in top roles, are we truly tapping into the power of sponsorship to help bridge this gap? Forget mentorship; sponsorship actively propels women's careers forward. Women with sponsors are 20% more likely to be promoted than those without.

Understanding the Concept of Female Sponsorship

Sponsorship, involves a senior figure within the organisation who actively uses their position and influence to advocate for a woman's career advancement. This individual, known as the sponsor, goes beyond offering advice or guidance. They use their positional power to recommend women for promotions, high-impact projects, and strategic roles — often when the women are not present to advocate for themselves.

Female Sponsorship

The Difference Between Mentorship and Sponsorship

Sponsorship goes beyond mentorship, as it involves influential individuals advocating for their protégés' professional development and actively opening doors to new opportunities. A sponsor takes an active role in guiding and supporting, providing valuable advice, feedback, and access to resources. They act as a champion for their protégé within the organisation, advocating for their promotion, giving them access to forums they probably didn’t know existed and ensuring their visibility.

The Role of Sponsorship in Breaking Barriers

Sylvia Ann Hewlett, a global expert in talent innovation reported in a Harvard Business Review report that women are 54% less likely than men to have a sponsor. For women, sponsorship opens doors that might otherwise remain closed. The sponsor can provide visibility, recommend women for promotion, highlight women for important projects, and ensure their contributions are recognised. Sponsors can also provide access to resources, like training, funding, and development opportunities that are essential for career growth. They also hold themselves accountable for the success of their protégés, creating a unique dynamic that propels women's careers forward.

Sponsorship is about advocating for someone when they aren't in the room. The CEO & ExCo have to lead by example and be seen to do this.
Lorna Fitzsimons
Serial Entrepreneur & Former Politician

The Impact of Sponsorship on Women's Career Advancement

Sponsorship is proven to have a transformative impact on women's careers. A recent case study examining the results of sponsorship initiatives in two companies found that the women who participated saw significant career advancement. The success of these women was attributed to the sponsors' ongoing commitment to encourage and build confidence, their advocacy within the company structure, and the dedication of the women themselves to develop their skills and experiences.

Common misconceptions about sponsorship

Sponsorship is exclusive

One common misconception is that sponsorship is only for a select few. While it is true that sponsors tend to focus their efforts on high-potential individuals, sponsorship is not exclusive to a particular group. Everyone, regardless of their gender, can benefit from having a sponsor who actively supports their career advancement.

Organisations are responsible for sponsorship

Another misconception is that sponsorship is solely the responsibility of the organisation. While companies play a crucial role in implementing sponsorship programs, individuals also have a role to play. It is important for women to actively seek out sponsors, build relationships, and demonstrate their potential. By taking ownership of their career development and seeking sponsorship opportunities, women can proactively advance their careers.

How to be a good sponsor

Being a sponsor is not just about providing guidance and support; it requires a genuine commitment to your protégé's success. As a sponsor, it is essential to actively advocate for your protégé within the organisation. Use your influence and connections to create opportunities and remove barriers that may hinder their advancement. Provide honest feedback and guidance, helping them identify areas for improvement and supporting their professional development.

Good sponsors also invest time in building a strong relationship with their protégé. Take the time to understand their aspirations, goals, and challenges. Act as a sounding board, offering advice and perspective when needed. Celebrate their achievements and provide recognition for their hard work. By being an engaged and supportive sponsor, you can significantly impact your protégé's career trajectory.

Ready to explore how sponsorship can benefit you or your organisation?

Closing Thoughts

As we reflect on the transformative power of sponsorship in advancing women's careers, it's crucial to recognise that awareness alone is not enough. Action is needed to harness the full potential of sponsorship and drive real change in the workplace.

By actively seeking sponsorship opportunities or advocating for sponsorship programmes within your organisation, you can propel your career forward and contribute to a more inclusive and equitable workplace culture. Remember, sponsorship is not just about benefiting individuals—it's about creating a ripple effect that benefits entire organisations and industries.

To take the next step in your career journey, consider the following action steps:

Reach Out: Identify potential sponsors within your network and initiate conversations about sponsorship opportunities. Don't be afraid to express your career goals and aspirations.

Advocate for Change: If your organisation does not already have a sponsorship programme in place, advocate for its implementation. Highlight the benefits of sponsorship for both individuals and the organisation as a whole.

Educate Yourself: Take advantage of resources such as workshops, coaching programmes, and networking events focused on sponsorship and career development. Continuously seek opportunities to enhance your skills and expand your professional network.

Share Your Journey: Engage with others by sharing your experiences, insights, and challenges related to sponsorship. By fostering open dialogue and collaboration, we can collectively work towards creating a more supportive and inclusive workplace environment.

Remember, the journey towards career advancement through sponsorship may not always be easy, but it is a proven, successful strategy. By taking proactive steps and embracing the power of sponsorship, you can unlock new opportunities, overcome barriers, and ultimately, achieve your full potential.

Ben Eason
Author Ben Eason | Digital Lead | The Pipeline

Ben Eason, as the Digital Lead of The Pipeline, is a prominent advocate for gender diversity and focused on fostering diversity in leadership roles. He strives to break down barriers and promote the advancement of women in the corporate world.