Real Perspective

Women and Sponsorship

Lynn Brooks
Lynn Brooks, PhD, is an assistant professor of Management at the Villanova School of Business. Dr. Brooks and her twin sister, Donna Brooks, PhD, are also best-selling McGraw-Hill authors of three books on Leadership and Women’s Success Strategies, which have been translated into nine languages. Their research included interviews with more than 100 senior leaders at multi-national firms worldwide. They have been interviewed widely by the global media, including CNN International, CNBC, The Wall Street Journal, Business Week, USA Today, and Forbes, among many others. Prior to her academic career, Dr. Brooks had a corporate career in global sales and marketing management, and was a partner of Brooks Consulting with a Fortune 50 client list.

Cathy Engelbert, CEO of Deloitte LLC, recently shared her personal stories and success strategies with a standing-room only audience at VSB. Her insights on sponsorship during the presentation particularly resonated with me.

The topic of Women and Sponsorship has been on my radar for the last year or so, particularly while creating and teaching a new course last semester on Women in Global Leadership. So what is sponsorship and why is it important for professional women, especially those in their early to mid-careers?

According to Catalyst, an influential nonprofit group that focuses on women’s inclusion and advancement in the workplace, “sponsors are advocates in positions of authority who use their influence intentionally to help others advance,” guiding them on how to navigate the workplace and recognize opportunities for growth.

Recent reports suggest that successful sponsorships require action from both the organization and the candidates for sponsorship. For their part, women should seek out–and publicly express an interest in–leadership opportunities that stretch them beyond their current situations. In addition, the candidates should concentrate on developing a focused skill set that prepares them for leadership roles.   

Concurrently, management initiatives should be designed to identify and hire women with leadership potential, and encourage them to pursue leadership roles. Firms also should focus on creating an organizational culture that enables women to succeed.

A number of award-winning companies have shared their best practices in sponsoring women with leadership potential, which include:

  • Linking leadership programming to skills and competencies that matter, such as developing the business, financial, and strategic acumen required to advance into more senior roles
  • Providing ongoing community support, such as peer group coaching and networking
  • Reaching out to colleagues who have “been there” and can act as trusted advisors, in addition to the standard training
  • Ensuring that women with leadership potential have access to highly visible men, such as through networking dinners, to encourage organization-wide engagement

Organizations should encourage these early-to-mid-career women to be proactive in discussing sponsorship opportunities as part of their career planning process; or as Cathy Engelbert might say, help this next generation of female leaders “aspire to lead.”

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