Sponsorship for Inclusion

As emphasized in my articles on the impact of implicit bias on good hiring, onboarding and networking practices, bias in the workplace limits people’s opportunities for promotion, higher pay, and their ability to gain needed professional experience. This is why it is so important for diversity and inclusion efforts to be more than simply a program, but instead to be integrated into all organizational practices. A practice that supports this integration, and the promotion of a more diverse workforce within higher-level positions, is sponsorship.

Sponsorship vs. Mentorship — What’s the difference?

Mentors tend to show people around, give them a sense of what the organization is like, and give advice. Mentors are also usually inspiring people to whom the mentees look up to and work to emulate. There may be a personal investment by a mentor to try to help a mentee get promoted in the organization should the opportunity arise, but given that mentorship is voluntary — this may not always be the case.

Sponsors, on the other hand, give more than just advice. Sponsors have influence in the organization, which they can leverage to help advance a person’s career. When a sponsorship program is more formalized, there is an expectation in the company that each leader sponsor a certain number of people. Every time there is a hiring opportunity, the sponsor thinks of the person s/he sponsors and helps prepare that person for the opportunity. This agreement to make an investment, as well as the sponsor’s influence within the organization, makes it possible for a more diverse pipeline of leaders to be built. These qualified people from different types of backgrounds are then enabled to climb the ladders.

Tips for facilitating an inclusive sponsorship program

Research indicates that one in every four white men have sponsors. Reminder: by a sponsor I mean an influencer that helps to advance someone’s career. Yet only one out of seventeen people of color have sponsors. There is a clear and definite correlation to why most leadership pipelines are so white and so male. To deliberately guide the practice of sponsorship to be more inclusive, here are some tips for impacting sponsorships in your organization.

  • Do more than just hire for diversity — appoint leaders in the company to sponsor new hires and provide the sponsors with guidance
  • Attract leader sponsors who represent the kind of diversity and equity you want to see
  • Share your vision for an inclusive workplace throughout your company
  • Tell a clear story of how it looks to foster this value in your organization
  • Include the role of sponsorship in the job descriptions of leaders, communicating that their roles involve sponsorship and their performance is measured based on these efforts
  • Be intentional about the people you select for sponsorship — don’t just throw people together but be intentional about their styles and who will work well together
  • Make sure sponsors have awareness and training about implicit bias and leadership styles
  • Don’t match Latinos with only other Latinos or African Americans with only other African Americans. The whole point of sponsoring for inclusion is to move away from people in leadership positions only looking out for similar people
  • Encourage people in leadership to acknowledge any privilege they may have. Let them know you believe change often takes those with privilege having a willingness to use that privilege to help someone who might not have received that benefit

Remember, a sponsor does more than just inspire and give advice. A sponsor actually looks for and makes recommendations for training, resources, and promotion. If people in leadership are only looking out for people like themselves, this works against workplace inclusion.

Over the next few months I will continue to blog about ways to integrate diversity and inclusion into workplaces and other systems. Please join in the conversation.

Originally published at Jelani Consulting.