This article was first published in the Times of PAMAC on October 1st, 2019.

The awareness of the business case for Inclusion and Diversity is on the rise. There are numerous research and case studies that speak about the Business Case for Diversity. For example, Financial Times 2014 report shows for every 1% increase in gender and ethnic diversity in the workforce there is a 3-9% rise in sales revenue. McKinsey’ 2017 Diversity and Financial Performance report shares the findings that

  • Companies in the top quartile for gender diversity on their executive teams are 21 percent more likely to experience above average profitability than companies in the fourth quartile
  • Companies in the top quartile for ethnic and cultural diversity are 33 percent more likely to outperform on EBIT margin

And even though there is a clear correlation between gender and ethnic diversity with profitability and value creation, women and minorities are underrepresented in the workforce. Some of the minorities suffer a double burden of bias that keeps them from the uppermost levels of corporate leadership.

Though globally some organizations have made some sizeable improvements to Inclusion and Diversity (I&D) across their organization, majority of the companies find it challenging to improve the representation of diverse talent within their ranks and utilizing I&D as an enabler of business impact.

While most of the global organizations have been running mentoring and leadership development programs to accelerate their talent pipeline, and majority of the vendors are offering these programs as solutions to fix the pipeline, it has not yielded the desired results.

So, what are the smallest things you could focus on that would get the needle moving?WELL, ONE OF THE BEST PRACTICES TO IMPROVE THE DIVERSITY IN THE SENIOR TALENT PIPELINE IS SPONSORSHIP PROGRAM.

What is Sponsorship?

Sponsorship is the key to accelerating the pipeline of diverse talent and is essential for sustained innovation and success. Sponsorship is a business-driven development intervention in which a more experienced manager or a senior leader (serving as a role model), sponsors, encourages and influences an emerging leader. Effective sponsorship delivers tangible outputs – real-time talent management, career advancement, a more inclusive leadership culture and top talent retention.

It is important to understand the difference between mentoring and sponsorship programs:

Mentors give advice and counsel the menteeSponsors advocate for advancement, provide stretch assignments and protects the protégés/sponsees
Mentors can be in any level of hierarchy and could be from a different organization than mentee’sSponsors are Senior Leaders with influence, they are decision makers and need to be at least 1 level above your reporting managers
Mentors serve as role models, provide support and feedback on how to improve one’s sense of competency and self-worthSponsors give their protégés exposure to other executives for career advancement and provide a safe space for development
Mentors advice on how to navigate the corporate politicsSponsors make sure that their sponsees are considered for promising opportunities and challenging assignments
Mentors help mentee’s personal and professional development and act as a confidential sounding board for ideas & challengesSponsors protect their protégés from negative publicity or damaging contact with senior executives
All employees should have a mentorMeritocratic, earned by top performers, reciprocal relationship

In line with the International Women’s Day 2019 theme #BalanceforBetter #IWD2019, my 2 cents – women are over mentored around the world, what women need is more Sponsors! Start investing in Sponsorship programs to improve the Gender Diversity in your talent pipeline.

What are the benefits?

Sponsor relationships are a powerful tool that can help accelerate the success of employees and their organizations. Sponsorship helps senior leaders expand their reach and impact while helping the top talent cross critical notch points into top management. It is a reciprocal relationship – the top talent gains visibility, access and opportunity identification needed for continuous success. And the leaders build their reputational capital by sponsoring talented employees and receive valuable information and feedback from the employees they sponsor. This further promotes a greater understanding of business needs and opportunities.

Few examples:

Sponsorship relationships are milestone based and tend to range from 1-2 years’ timeframe. The relationship is dependant on the emerging leaders’ career milestones. Though every match may not work out perfectly, here are a few organizations that saw significant improvement in their gender talent pipeline and are planting the seeds for long term change through Sponsorship – American Express, Cisco, Citi, Deloitte, AT&T, Time Warner, Deutsche Bank, Novartis, Unilever, Bristol-Myers Squibb, Morgan Stanley, Turner Broadcasting, Intel, Johnson & Johnson and PepsiCo.

How to build a Culture of Sponsorship at your Organization?

  • Start with the business case for your organization and a pre-program diagnostic to understand and analyse what all exists within your organization that you could build on
  • Define the program scope and design the program framework, timeline, define Sponsorship, identify the Sponsors and the emerging leaders, your high potential high performing diverse talent
  • Start at the enterprise level and on-board your most senior leaders as the Sponsors, clearly articulate the role of a Sponsor and Sponsee and the critical success factors
  • Identify the specific metrics that will be integrated into the business leader goals and will be assessed to measure the impact of sponsorship program efficacy
  • Identify the pairing methodology, most companies don’t want to regulate sponsorship, preferring it to be organic. But to increase the prevalence of people from underrepresented groups being included, companies need to deliberately expose senior leaders to high potentials from these groups and insist that the leaders identify protégés
  • Start small, run a pilot program and have a focused plan to increase participation in a specific timeframe
  • Prepare a list of FAQs for Sponsors, Sponsees and Supervisors
  • Work on your communication plan and make sure that you incorporate awareness/education sessions
  • It is universal truth – what gets measured, gets done, identify the metrics for success and link sponsorship success to executive compensation
  • Don’t limit the efforts to corporate headquarters
  • Finally, don’t forget to communicate success, internally and externally