We know diversity translates into better ideas, market representation, and, ultimately, dollars. According to a 2015 McKinsey Report, companies with gender and ethnic diversity are more likely to outperform their competitors. And yet, women and people of color represent a combined total of only 34% at the SVP level and 30% at the C-Suite level. So, what’s happening?
Let me explain. One of my sponsors is quite fond of saying, “Every system is perfectly designed to achieve the results it gets.” And in this case, it has never been more true. Our organizational systems are designed (largely unintentionally) to prevent women and people of color from advancing. I shared more about this in “The need for sponsorship is now. (Here’s why).”
Before your organization can make progress toward fostering diversity, the leadership team must be:
- Aligned on the business case for promoting diversity
- Have an understanding of why it is important to the future of the business
- Be aware of the levers that are most likely to impact the culture
One of these levers is sponsorship. The reality is that sponsorship has become more than just a buzzword for creating workplaces that are inclusive of women, minorities, different generations, and a global workforce—it is a powerful tool that can help us foster workplace equality. And it’s a tool we can leverage starting now.
A Strategy for Sponsorship
1. Honest Dialogue: Having your leadership team take ownership and personal responsibility for engaging as sponsors (and thus creating a more inclusive workplace) is essential to success. Sponsorship is driven by the sponsor, and that means that the leaders in this role need to be fully committed and bought-in to the concept of sponsorship and their role as a sponsor. One way to do this is to create collaborative conversations and candid dialogue to understand and align on what sponsorship means for your organization and how your organization will support sponsorship.
2. The Right Questions: Once you have commitment from your leaders or leadership team, engage a cross-functional group to explore the vision for sponsorship within your organization. Focus your discussion around future-looking questions, such as:
- What will having a sponsorship culture mean to our organization?
- What impact will a sponsorship culture have on the future of our organization and our people?
- How will we track our progress and what does our desired future state look like?
- How will our organization change?
3. Envision Success: Next, take a deeper dive to envision the desired future state of your organization. Imagine that you have a time machine, and you’re visiting your company five years from now; what do you see happening in your ideal organization? Who are your leaders and what values do they have? What routine systems are in place to enable sponsorship at all levels? How are women and minorities recruited, developed and promoted in your company—and where does sponsorship fit into this equation?
“Visioning” is another exercise that should be done collaboratively with your leaders and a representative group of team members, and should continue with as many people as possible in order to build commitment and ownership. Your vision might look something like this:
Leaders at my organization take a vested interest in promoting a culture where sponsorship is recognized as a critical component to our success. Our executive team takes personal responsibility for creating momentum and pathways to advance the highest caliber talent. Leaders and managers intentionally and actively seek out sponsorship opportunities to promote and advance talented team members. Additionally, our leadership team recognizes their own bias, and the bias embedded within our system, and seeks to build these relationships to advocate for the advancement of women and people of color.
Let’s recap our progress so far: you’ve made a compelling case for increasing diversity to help ensure your organization thrives. Leaders and influential team members are engaged in the dialogue and committed to the success of formal sponsorship and your organization has a vision, a destination to strive toward.
In my upcoming blog post, we will discuss the roles of sponsorship and developing skills in your sponsor and sponsee to aid them on this journey.
For now, think about how you might take that first step to launch this effort. Share your thoughts, questions and concerns with us below.
Editor’s note: Briana will be facilitating a half day bootcamp on sponsorship best practices at Linkage’s Women in Leadership Institute™ on November 16, 2017. Join us to learn how to leverage sponsorship in your organization—starting now.