At Cultivate Sponsorship, we have the advantage of seeing how our sponsorship program benefits a sponsor and sponsee. Over the last four years that we’ve been in operation, we’ve also had the advantage of seeing other benefits of sponsorship.
Before these are examined in more detail, it’s important to remember the role of a sponsor and sponsee. A sponsor is a person who advocates for their sponsee and uses their network to filter opportunities, networks, and people. A sponsorship is a relationship built on mutual trust as a sponsor will amplify a sponsee’s voice within their network and in turn, the sponsee is expected to work to the best of their ability if the opportunity crystallises into a job opportunity.
Visibility and amplification are two cornerstones of sponsorship. There are also other benefits to sponsorship which this article points out.
1. Empathy building
There’s a lot of chatter around empathetic leadership and the practical question must be asked: how does a leader empathise with their workforce? Cultural calendars are ‘nice to have’ but do nothing to build awareness around a person’s lived experiences. They also do nothing to examine the barriers that individuals may be facing in their own organisations regarding talent progression. DEI committees can be a great starting point, but if the right people are not on the committee, then that too can be just a ‘feel good’ exercise for the leadership team.
A sponsorship offers both the sponsor and the sponsee an opportunity to cultivate a relationship built on honesty and trust. A sponsee has demonstrated a track record within their organisation and brings talent and an ability to problem solve. When paired with a sponsor, a sponsee brings their experiences to the sponsor. If the sponsee is a woman or person of colour, it is likely they will bring experiences that their sponsor has not encountered.
When a sponsor is made aware of their sponsee’s personal and professional lives, and this is exceptionally important for women, parents returning from parental leave and people of colour, they are forced to examine what their career path has been and whether there have been any privileges that afforded them unearned opportunities. In a best-case scenario, the sponsor will recognise what talent-based activities within their organisation requires an overhaul.
At the sponsee’s end, exposure to a senior leader, who is in a position of power, brings realisation to what they might be capable of and what career pathways are open to them in the future. There is often a view that senior leaders are doing work that is so highly esteemed, it could not possibly be completed by anyone else. In our opinion, this is an example of poor leadership. When a sponsee can see what their sponsor is working on, they can envisage themselves in that role. Whilst a sponsor believes in the talents of their
sponsee, a sponsee is also given the opportunity to empathise with their sponsor and understand that “they’re just like me, only senior!”
2. Meritocracy & Talent Retention
For many young people, women and people of colour, the myth of meritocracy is instilled when they first enter the workforce. The notion of being a ‘good’ worker who keeps quiet and gets their work done can end up being a detrimental mantra to live by, as promotions and opportunities are by-passed to individuals who look and sound like the status quo. Meritocracy is not a realistic ideal in corporate Australia. A sponsorship program can draw a sponsor’s attention to a sponsees’ skills and achievements in a way that a linear progression plan may not. When a sponsor empathises with their sponsee and can see what their sponsee is aspiring to in their career, the sponsor can provide impartial advice and critique to ensure their sponsee’s success. At the other end, the sponsor can keep their eyes and ears peeled for opportunities that would be suitable for their sponsee.
Employees will often leave their workplaces when they have practiced meritocracy and still been unrecognised and promoted. Most employees will leave their workplaces for other opportunities around 5-8 years after entering the workforce. Almost every Australian industry is suffering from a skills shortage, and quite often, employers fail to recognise exceptional talent within their own organisations because they are focussed on following talent retention and progression plans that simply do not work. Sponsorship enables leaders and employees to examine what career progression can truly look like and what barriers might be in place preventing talent progression. This leads directly to the next point.
3. Systemic barriers
Systemic barriers might be an overused phrase and for good reason. The history of Australian society and workplaces stems from the British, which was (and arguably continues to be) a patriarchal and white. These practices have been embedded since colonisation and whilst they may not be so overt, they continue to pervade Australian workplaces. This was seen recently with WGEA’s report “She’s Price(d)less”. The report found that women are paid $2.56 less per hour than their male counterparts. The key driver to the gender pay gap in Australia is gender discrimination which contributes to 36% of the total gap.
Sponsorship is not the single solution to ending discrimination in workplaces. However, In building empathy and having leaders who are exposed to stories other than their own, practices can change within workplaces.
An example of this might occur if a sponsor notices the talent attraction practices at their organisation is great at attracting women but fails in its retention and progression of the same talent. Similarly, a sponsor might notice that promotions are awarded to certain individuals who either think, look or pander to certain executive leaders. A sponsor, a
person who is in a position of power, can raise these issues and embed their leadership legacy based on their interactions with their sponsee.
4. Culture of Sponsorship
When most volunteers are asked why they give up their time, the very common response is “To give back to my community and because it feels good to give back.” Similarly, when a sponsee’s career trajectory takes a turn for the better, they will often want to pay it forward.
A sponsee understands that they might not be able to repay their sponsor for investing their time and energy into a sponsee’s ambitions. Rather, a sponsee will move into a senior role and seek to provide the same opportunity to someone else within their organisation.
A culture of sponsorship is a culture of leadership, empathy, kindness, and a willingness to remove barriers that are in place for under-represented groups.
5. Transformational Leadership
A sponsorship program can embed a leadership style that inspires positive changes. A sponsor can implement procedural changes that will create a better workplace for all of its constituents. At a personal level, a sponsor is focussed on helping their sponsee achieve their goals.
For a sponsee, transformational leadership can take place in the act of paying it forward. It can also take place when they feel like their voice, and the voice of their people, is being heard by their employer.
Sponsorship has the impact of stimulating intellectual and creative discussions at between a sponsor and sponsee. For sponsors, it provides them with a clear vision as to how they want to be seen and remembered within their workplace. Sponsees are motivated to invest in their careers knowing that a senior leader, with whom they have garnered trust, respect and admiration, is invested in their careers.
Sponsorship is about understanding that a sponsor and sponsee are on a parallel leadership journey that intersects with each other. It is not about ‘fixing the sponsee’ nor is it a passive relationship on the part of the sponsor. It is through sponsorship that Australian workplaces will see real change in achieving equality and equity within corporate Australia.