Blog Post

Why Sponsorship Programs Are Vital in Advancing Underrepresented Groups

By Rumbi Petrozzello
July 27, 2021
Topics Sponsorship

With the goal of creating more diverse workplaces, companies are investing in many approaches to attract and hire a wider pool of employees. However, without investing at least as much in retention and advancement strategies, this process may start to look more like a revolving door where underrepresented groups enter companies, do not envision career success in those spaces and, therefore, leave. It is imperative that employees coming into an organization, and those already within that organization, can see and believe in a clear career path.

Sponsorship vs Mentorship

First, I want to pause and emphasize that it is very important to understand the difference between a mentor and a sponsor. A mentor has a relationship with a mentee where the mentor gives career advice, navigation, and guidance and mentors do not need to be in the same company or area of business as their mentees. A sponsor must have the clout to advance their protégé’s career.

The Power of A Sponsor

The music executive, entrepreneur, and film producer, Clarence Avant, affectionately known as the Black Godfather has mentored many people, from artists, to athletes and politicians, advising them how to negotiate better, prevail over challenges, and the necessity of networks, famously saying, “I don’t have problems. I have friends.” Avant is also an influential sponsor who used his network to move the then unknown junior senator from Illinois, Barack Obama, into a primetime sport at the Democratic National Convention, an event that was integral to Obama’s political success. Just before Hank Aaron hit his 715th home run, breaking Babe Ruth’s record, Avant marched into the office of the president of Coca-Cola, negotiating a life-changing endorsement deal for Aaron. That is the power of a sponsor who not only recognizes talent but is able to move that talent forward.

Why Sponsorship?

An important strategy is an effective sponsorship program, where sponsors not only help protégés drive their career vision but also connect protégés to high-profile people, assignments, pay increases, and promotions. Through the annual Best Companies for Multicultural Women list, Seramount research found that multicultural women with sponsorship were promoted, received pay increases, and experienced job satisfaction at significantly higher rates than those without sponsorship. The Center for Talent Innovation had similar findings for people of color in general and, according to their research, top talent is not sponsored equally – white individuals are 63% more likely to have a sponsor than individuals from underrepresented groups. In organizations that are seeking to retain and advance talent from underrepresented groups this should be of particular concern, according to CTI’s findings, employees with sponsors are more likely to be satisfied with their rate of advancement and to remain in the company.

An effective and equitable sponsorship program is one that is formalized and based on institutional recognition of high performance, talent, and potential. Such programs begin by clearly defining what it means to be high potential and communicating that to employees.

Sponsorship programs can be designed and implemented in many ways but, for program success, it is critical that:

  • The sponsorship match ties to the development plan of the employee
  • The sponsor has the influence needed to make that specific next move happen for the protégé
  • Visibility and job experience are directly tied to the sponsorship plan
  • There is clarity about the purpose of the sponsorship program

Sponsors also benefit from the sponsorship relationship, among other things, burnishing their reputation, increasing the likelihood that they will be promoted, and expanding their knowledge of the organization and client opportunities. An effective sponsorship program is a win-win for both the sponsor and protégé. Advancing top talent into positions where that talent can better leverage their skills, and the improved retention that comes about from sponsorship programs, is also a great boon for the organizations.

Photo Credit: New York Times

About the Authors

Rumbi Petrozzello
Senior Director, Consulting
Seramount