Blog Post

Sponsorship…Making A Game-Changing Move Part 1 of 2

By Vanessa J. Weaver, Ph.D.
January 5, 2016
Topics Sponsorship
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Leadership word cloud
Stock Photo

The beginning of the New Year is replete with resolutions and promises that will enhance our personal and professional lives, health and happiness. Hopefully, one of your resolutions will be a game-changing career move. If you’re fortunate, you might be in a position to assist others to act on their career game-changer New Year resolution. My New Year Resolution is to share my 30+ years of hard-earned insights on how to effectuate Sponsorship, particularly for people of color and those that are committed to their success. Why? Because it is often so elusive. Over the last year, I have conducted numerous workshops and keynoted conferences where few people of color indicated they have sponsors. The overwhelming majority [90 percent or more] did not have sponsors. With frustration, concern, and helplessness, they asked the question; “Why not me?”

My intention is to share insider tips on how to become “sponsored.” For D&I practitioners, change-agents and human capital practitioners, my aim is to assist you in identifying and enrolling power brokers to sponsor those different from them. This is a 2-part series for 3 reasons:

  • 1st: The entire article is too long.
  • 2nd: Part I, you will have a homework assignment, to “heart-check” yourself in preparation for benefitting from your game-changer sponsorship resolution.
  • 3rd: Part 2 will take you through a sponsorship game-changer process. It will be published in the February 10th edition.

To ensure we’re on the same page, I’d like to share my definition of a sponsor. A sponsor is a person levels higher who has made a “heart” connection with you. As a result, they have made a personal pledge and commitment to share of themselves with you. If this is sounding personal, it REALLY is just that – personal. It is tantamount to a commitment to be in a relationship with someone, for a long time. As a result of this commitment, you can expect your sponsor to: advocate, body-block and tackle, be your PR agent, be politically disruptive with their peers on your behalf and insure you get a “supportive kick” when you need it, even if they don’t provide it directly.

For decades, if not centuries, sponsorship was one of the clandestine, secret and unspoken rites for a privileged few. To the chagrin of many, in the last decade, sponsorship has been brought out in the open. Because we’re in the life cycle of equity, equality and fairness, there have been admirable efforts to open up discourse and to find ways to make sponsorship happen, for the uninvited majority. Yet, the heart-connection and personal commitment to be a sponsor has made implementing formal programs mostly unsuccessful and, at best, challenging for well-intentioned organizations.

It is almost impossible to orchestrate or legislate the underlying chemistry of a “sponsorship heart connection.” We know from our personal relationships that the absence of chemistry, doesn’t lead to a “heart connection,” which invariably doesn’t lead to a deep, sustainable relationship. It is the same with a sponsor relationship in the workplace.

It is critical to recognize and accept this “truth” about chemistry and heart connection and that sponsorship isn’t about fairness. In fact, sponsorship is not an “equal-opportunity” right for everyone, but a privilege that studies have repeatedly indicated, is conveyed to only 20-30 percent of employees. Obtaining a sponsor is not just a challenge for people of color, but for others irrespective of their race, gender, sexual orientation and other differences. However, the greater the distance of sameness, a reality for people of color, the more challenging it becomes.

Acknowledging the “truths” regarding Sponsorship doesn’t mean it’s hopeless to expand sponsorship. It does suggest that there are opportunities for all parties to change their cultural lens and hearts. For the person of color, it means altering your mindset to believe that “You Matter” and have earned the privilege to be sponsored. It means being mentally prepared for rejection, but not accepting the NO. It means making an investment to increase your visibility and profile so that you are attractive to potential sponsors. It also means doing the work to become more transparent, vulnerable and emotionally available.

For potential sponsors from a majority group (e.g. male, white), it means acknowledging that you have an important role in breaking this cycle. Actively sponsoring a person of color is a tremendously important step that demonstrates its importance. This requires pushing yourself beyond your comfort zone of “sameness” and making a commitment to grow in your own awareness, risk-taking and impact, by making the “heart-connection” with a person of color. Facilitating access and exposure of talented person of color(s) to your personal network is a powerful role for you to play in relationship opportunities, some of which will evolve into sponsorships.

For the D&I, HR or Change-Agent practitioners, maintaining a personal and professional commitment to expanding sponsorship to those most challenged to receive should be a foundational mission or goal. However, leaders and others will check you out to see if you are role-modeling what you expect others to do. It also requires your patient determination that it might take individual commitments from a few powerful and influential powerbroker sponsors, before there is cultural and systemic change. Thus, you’ll you have to test your courage barometer to see if you’re using your influence and leveraging your personal relationships. I have too often seen practitioners underplay their ability to touch the “heart” of a leader, by opting for caution and maintaining their own self-interest.

In this series we’ll explore how to make Alignment Strategies’ 3- Step Sponsorship Activation Model™ work for you and/or others. The 3- Step Model consists of the following:

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Sponsorship Flow Chart
Alignment Strategies

STEP I: ACCESS: Your Mindset Change

  • Self- Activating Your P.I.E. Brand and Value Proposition: Self-check of the interplay of your Performance, Image and Exposure. Self-exploration: Why you matter to yourself and others?
  • Others to You: Transparency of “who” you are; exposure to your vulnerabilities; insights to what you really care about in/out of workplace.
  • You to Others: Visibility and contact, within workplace and outside to “game-changers,” power brokers and political and cultural masters inside and out of your organization

STEP 2: ACCOMMODATIONS: Putting Yourself in Motion

  • Being of Service and Selflessness
  • Empowered Access Moves to Self
  • Piloting the Sponsorship You Want

STEP 3: ACTUALIZATION: It’s All in the Doing

  • Do Your Homework and Enroll Support
  • Creating Your Personalized Action Plan
  • Making a Game-Changer Move


Your homework is focused on preparing you to better actualize Step I: Access-Your Mindset Change. Since sponsorship is personal, I encourage you to determine how ready you REALLY are to EITHER facilitate and/or be the recipient of an up-close and personal sponsorship relationship. It is difficult to receive what you are not prepared to accept and give. I know for people of color this can be a MAJOR challenge. We have been taught to PROTECT ourselves by limiting access to our personal selves. We often wear masks and not allow others to see our hearts and vulnerabilities, because we believe others [particularly those of a different race or ethnicity] would either not understand or misuse.

If you can’t get beyond this cultural protector and barrier, it will be difficult to have a deep, sustaining sponsor relationship. THIS IS YOUR WORK TO DO!!!! I am speaking from personal experience. As an African-American female, it was my greatest challenge to open up and trust a white person. However, willing myself to do so, was one of my greatest learnings, which was a game-changer, and life-altering move. It has boded me well. I am a much better person with a richer network of sponsors and friends, for doing so.

For people of color and/or those that feel they are different than the majority in their organizations, select “Yes” or “No” for the following statements:

Questions for Person of Color and/or Person of DifferenceYESNO
1. I want a Sponsor.
2. I am open and willing to invite my immediate Supervisor to my home for a meal [brunch, lunch or dinner] or a social occasion.
3. I am willing to attend a cultural experience outside of work that is totally different from my normal activities.
4. I am willing to invite a work colleague, who is culturally [race, ethnicity, national origin, gender, etc.] different from me, to accompany me to an event outside of work.
5. I am willing to engage in a CANDID conversation with my immediate supervisor, about how I am feeling about our relationship, with a focus on non-transactional topics [deliverables, schedule, budget].

If you answered “Yes” to all of the above, you are ready for Part II of this series. In preparation for Part II, I ask that you select one of your “Yes” responses and action on it within the next month. Part II, published on February 10, will prepare you for the winning next steps.

If you answered “No” to any statements, in the next 30 days I want you to select at least one of your “NO” questions and action on it: do it/make it happen. As part of that process, I want you to be very introspective and write down:

  1. How you felt about doing it.
  2. Any resistances or barriers that hampered you, or made you doubt going forward. Are you stuck?
  3. How you addressed any of the resistances or barriers to acting on that step.
  4. Review each answer and then ask yourself;
    a. What is the worst thing that could happen to me, if I turned that No into a Yes?
    b. What would be the benefits to me?

For the Change-Agent, Influencer, Power Broker, Manager/Supervisor, I want you to answer the following questions:

Questions for D&I, HR, Managers, Change-Agent PractitionersYESNO
1. Are you currently sponsoring anyone?
a. If yes, how is it going?
b. How does the relationship make you feel?
c. If no, why not?
2. Are you currently sponsoring anyone who is markedly different from you [race, ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation, disability, etc.]?
a. If yes, how is it going?
b. How does the relationship make you feel?
3. In the last year, have you identified at least 3 game-changers/power-brokers in your organization, with whom you have a relationship, about them sponsoring someone of difference?
4. Can you recommend a person of color or Someone of Difference, right now, that you want the power broker to get to know better and that you feel the relationship could conceivably evolve to a sponsorship?

If you answered “Yes” to any of the four questions you get a “Stay Out of Jail” card. You are well on your way to being a valued partner to a Person of Color or Person of Difference, in assisting them to identify and engage a sponsor relationship. Your next step is to:

  1. Identify a Person of Color or Person of Difference to share this article; ask them to share their perspective.
  2. Invite them to answer questions 1-4 and to share their responses with you.
  3. Engage in a conversation with them:
    a. Ask the questions you have always wanted to ask and
    b. Encourage them to ask you their sensitive/uncomfortable questions.

This is a game-changer/growth move for you.

If you answered NO to questions, 1, 2, 3, 4. I first want you to do some serious self-reflection and to determine, why not? You might want to explore the following areas: your comfort level; is it an issue of you not having exposure to people of color or People of Difference; have you not made the personal commitment and investment? Being effective in helping others to consider and commit to being a Sponsor to those they had not considered, means you have done your own personal work and can be a role model for them.

If you have any questions or challenges with your homework assignment, or just want to share stories and experiences, please contact me at Otherwise, check my Part II – “Sponsorship, Making a Game Changing Move” in the February 10th edition of Diversity in the News.

You can catch Dr. Weaver on her new SiriusXM radio show Workin’ It Out: Triumph Over Workplace Stress, Wednesdays at 6:30pm EST on Ch. 141.

Dr. Vanessa Weaver is CEO of ALS , LLC, a 25+-yr. management-consulting firm and a DBP Solutions @ partner, with a focus on all facets of diversity management.

Go to to connect with Dr. Weaver.

About the Author

Vanessa J. Weaver, Ph.D.