Sponsorship Myth Busters.

At Cultivate we define Sponsorship as a strategic alliance between a senior leader and an emerging leader. Sponsors believe and invest in the careers of emerging leaders by giving them access to opportunity, supporting their skill development and advocating for them. Sponsorship is much more than mentorship it is a deliberate investment in talent that they see as outstanding, they open doors for them, they develop their careers.

Let us break it down by answering the most frequently asked questions about our female sponsorship program.

Why do we need a sponsorship program?

It is widely recognised that diversity brings better thinking, richer discussions, and a more inclusive workplace for everyone. Diverse leadership teams are more innovative and produce stronger business outcomes. Diversity is also the fair and right path forward. What’s more, greater gender equity in our workforce tells future generations that our company is a great place to work, and this will enhance our future talent pipeline.

From a sector perspective, in the last decade, women’s recruitment into [the built environment] has remained steady but women’s participation rate has actually fallen. One reason for the decline in women’s participation is a lack of career progression. Research has demonstrated that men are more likely to be informally sponsored and as a result offered assignments and opportunities critical to advancement, for example – roles with high visibility, profit and loss responsibility or international assignments. Informal sponsorship, research has shown to impacts remuneration, retention and progression.

A sponsorship program targeted at emerging women leaders, and owned by senior management, is a necessary strategy to overcome biases and systemic barriers to women’s advancement. Plus, by creating a transparent, more equitable system of sponsorship this program boosts the company’s ability to utilise its whole talent pool and cultivate a culture of sponsorship that inspires and develops talent at all levels and embeds sponsorship in our company. Building a diverse leadership team is one of the many actions necessary to address the gender pay gap. More women in leadership positions will improve the pipeline of bright young women choosing a career in consulting because as the saying goes: ‘you can’t be what you can’t see’.

Cultivate Sponsorship is designed to supplement the company’s existing succession planning and learning and development initiatives. This program is aimed to enhance female leadership in the company but not displace existing succession mapping.

Shouldn’t the best people for the job be sponsored?

Women can be the ‘best people’ too. Indeed, the selection process for this program is in alignment with company succession planning and talent management processes. What’s more, this program, like other gender diversity initiatives, aims to address the corporate gender imbalance in leadership and build an emerging pipeline so that there is diversity in leadership. It seeks to provide emerging female leadership with the networks, strategic alliances, and opportunities that research tells us has aided men’s progression into power and denied of women in the past.

Isn’t this giving women an ‘unfair advantage’?

Unfair advantage assumes that companies are a level playing field where career advancement is a fair and open contest at each point of promotion. In other words, hard work, talent, education and individual attributes are what moves individuals ahead. Research however finds that other factors influence career advancement in business, notably sponsorship and forming strategic alliances. Research also highlights that the assessment for promotions and career progression are often left to the discretion of managers and lack transparency.

We know from research that sponsorship often occurs informally in companies, whereby selected individuals receive higher levels of guidance, access to opportunities and advocacy from their senior managers. In male dominated sectors, research has been shown that sponsorship is more prevalent between men. Given access to sponsorship – formally or informally – women also rise into leadership roles. If we want to improve our gender mix in leadership positions, we really need to think of different approaches and ways to even up the playing field. Sponsorship programs focused on women leaders is one effective way.

“The research found that in male-dominated industries, one of the biggest barriers that women face in developing is their lack of strong professional relationships”.

Shouldn’t the sponsorship program be based on merit?

Merit is a simple word that often implies that those who have ‘earned’ their place and are ‘deserving’ have been promoted through a fair and transparent process that is open to everyone equally. The Research has shown that progression is not this simple nor transparent and merit is often code for ‘male career paths. Arguments about merit can quietly papers over ‘unearned’ attributes such as access to influential informal networks and the effects of barriers such as gender bias. The merit argument gives the impression that all formal barriers to participation in the workplace have been removed, we’re all now equal, when actually barriers to women’s progression still exist. Indeed, many barriers still remain at each stage of women’s careers. For instance, at the recruitment stage informal networks are more likely to advantage men. Rigid work practices and negotiating parental leave still impact women’s retention. While informal promotion practices, gender bias associated with women’s capability and unequal access to opportunities and skills necessary for promotion are can act against women’s progression.

The informality of many male dominated sectors like construction and engineering is a double-edged sword. On the one hand, it means that sponsorships and alliances are deeply personal and supportive, capable of opening opportunities. On the other hand, it makes for a flawed meritocracy, where networks and interpersonal connections speak louder than the work you are doing, sometimes at the expense of those who are most deserving of progression.

But the problem is the pipeline, women do not want to enter our industry, so why should men be punished?

Men are not being punished; in fact, men participate in this program as sponsors because men make up the bulk of leaders. This program aims to cement a culture of formal and transparent sponsorship that benefits everyone. There is no doubt there is a pipeline problem in relation to the number of women choosing to study engineering and construction tertiary degrees but the percentage of women entering construction and engineering tertiary degrees has remained stable for over a decade, yet women’s retention has dropped [14-16]. To attract the best and brightest young women (and men) the industry must focus on retaining and progressing women.

Our program has been developed with several modules that accompany the sponsor and the sponsee throughout their journey, to make sure that each step will have a positive impact on both them and on the company”.

Working with Cultivate Sponsorship Program is the best way for a company to keep its best talents by giving talented people the same chance of success within the company and make them feel valued.

If you are interested in knowing more about our program, get in contact with us now!