Are you content to perpetuate old methods of talent management . . . or are you willing to become a hero?
There is no one way to become a successful sponsor. Sponsorship styles vary by individual, sector and organization.
There is no doubt, however, that sponsorship is a powerful way to advance women in leadership. More important, it is a skill that can be learned. Our research confirms that great sponsors have several attributes in common including:
- Total commitment. Successful sponsors believe in the potential of the woman they sponsor. They know the risks: they may be putting their own careers on the line. But they also know when they need to push harder.
- Well-connected within the organization. To be effective, the sponsor has strong relationships within the organization and understands the people, personalities and resident skill sets. A sponsor knows the unwritten rules, what’s valued in the organization, and who are the decision makers.
- Persistence. Once the sponsor determines that someone has the requisite talent, the sponsor prevails over objections and obstacles in the interest of the individual’s advancement. The sponsor stays in regular contact with the individual to ensure that there are no major barriers standing in the way of success.
- Paving the way. When introducing the individual to a new boss, client or customer, the sponsor positions the individual appropriately. Where no roads to top leadership exist, the sponsor builds them.
- Candor. Honesty means giving someone both praise and criticism. The sponsoree may need to hear tough news about who are their supporters and their detractors, and the barriers ahead.
Beyond sponsorship: the bigger picture
Individual relationships are at the heart of sponsorship, but organizations and governments complement those efforts through the support of women’s advancement in business broadly.
“Countries need a very strong legislative environment to empower women,” says Leila Butt, Senior Economist at the Economist Intelligence Unit (EIU) and author of the 2010 EIU study Women’s economic opportunity: A new pilot index and global ranking, a pioneering work on the subject.
Governments impose quotas on female representation on boards of directors
In Europe, some governments are imposing quotas on women’s representation on boards of directors. For example, in 2011, the French National Assembly adopted a law to impose quotas for women’s representation on boards in publicly listed French companies and public enterprises.
Similar laws have been passed in Norway and Spain, and momentum to do so is building in Germany and Belgium.
Women on Board™ helps pave the way
In North America, Women on Board™ connects talented, up-and-coming women with prominent board chairs and CEOs from major Canadian companies. The goal is to expand the cadre of women who are prepared to take on director roles at major public and private entities.
By staying highly visible and leading by example, Women on Board is able to influence public policy.
For Sarah Raiss, who retired as Executive Vice President of Corporate Services for TransCanada in August 2011, Women on Board is a powerful force. Raiss is an outstanding example of a woman who has reached her potential — even in the male-dominated energy sector.
Several years ago, Raiss wanted to move onto a for-profit board. She credits Women on Board for matching her with Bob Harding, then chair of Brookfield Asset Management. He helped her determine which for-profit boards to target and introduced her to another executive who recommended Shoppers Drug Mart, Canada’s largest retail drugstore chain.
Today she serves on the boards of Shoppers, the Business Development Bank of Canada and Commercial Metals Company.
Raiss now works with Women on Board to identify prospective women board candidates and mentors.
A powerful sponsor in her own right, Raiss’s legacy project as she left TransCanada was to put a plan in place to increase representation of women in senior management positions.
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