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The Importance of Authentic Sponsorship

How do I find a sponsor?

This is one of the most commonly asked questions we receive in coaching sessions, trainings, and industry event panels. And it’s a critical one. Studies show that only 5% of high-potential Black employees and 5% of high-earning Latino professionals state they have sponsors (compared to 20% for their White peers). Additionally research has proven that when Black employees self-promote their work — a common piece of advice traditionally given by mentors and senior leaders — they are judged more negatively compared to their White, Hispanic and Asian counterparts. When assessing the inequitable career advancement for diverse talent, the importance of sponsor(s) who can elevate work on their behalf cannot be understated.

How to Be an Authentic Sponsor:

The primary difference between a mentor and a sponsor is a willingness to extend their credibility to your work. Sponsors influence, while mentors primarily advise.

The key to effective sponsorship is understanding that, just like any relationship, (1) it can evolve with time and (2) it requires a desire from both parties for the relationship to evolve naturally. Many sponsorship relationships began as mentorship and evolve over time — largely due to subtle (yet intentional) behaviors from the sponsor.

A few specific sponsorship tactics include:

  • Amplifying

  • Boosting

  • Connecting

  • Defending

Leaders should evaluate their behaviors and how they're lending their influence. Whenever possible, challenge yourself to take the step beyond mentorship towards authentic sponsorship.

How to Nurture a Sponsorship Relationship:

If you’re looking for a sponsor, start by nurturing your mentorship relationships.

  • Stay connected. Consider periodic check-ins, email updates, or LinkedIn posts to keep your mentors in-the-know.

  • Find ways to help them, by offering your skills or building bridges to your own network when applicable.

  • Get to know each other beyond your career ambitions and day-to-day job. It’s up to you how much you’d like to open up personally, but try expressing an interest in your mentor’s life outside of work to make the conversations more rich and meaningful.

Coaching, mentorship, and sponsorship: Each of these different types of developmental relationships are important in reaching your career goals. For allies and senior leaders looking to help close the equity gap in career progression and improve diverse talent retention, consider how you can become an authentic sponsor.



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