Women’s Networks Not Enough – Get a Sponsor!

There’s no doubt that female networks connect women, nourish career advancement, provide learning opportunities, boost confidence and generally provide much needed support and encouragement.

But then what?

We need more women in positions of senior leadership to work collaboratively with men, influence strategy and make important decisions. Networking with other women isn’t enough to achieve this.

What works in some companies is matching high potential women employees with  sponsors in senior level positions.

A sponsor is more than a mentor. Sponsors make introductions to the right people, facilitate career moves and guide you through the unwritten rules of organizational life.

According to research by the Center for Work-Life Policy as part of their “On-Ramps and Off-Ramps Revisited” study (to be published in the June Harvard Business Review), 89 percent of highly qualified women don’t have a sponsor and 68 percent lack mentors.

If you are serious about breaking through into the senior ranks of your organization you would be smart to continue building your networks, but also cultivate a sponsor.

To get a sponsor, you either need to take matters into your own hands and establish a sponsor relationship with a senior executive in your organization;  or influence your company to become a “matchmaker” and pair senior executives with high potential women as part of your talent management system.

Some forward thinking companies are already taking steps to facilitate this type of sponsor relationship.

American Express has created “Women in the Pipeline and at the Top.” With full support from CEO Ken Chenault, the program aims to identify and develop women with the potential to reach the top two levels and give them more opportunities to interact and get exposure to the executive team.

Deloitte’s “Leading to WIN” program, prepares high-potential women for leadership positions over the course of 18 months. In addition to one-on-one coaching, participants attend leadership meetings to give them direct exposure to executives and potential sponsors.

Cisco’s “Inclusive Advocacy Program”, pairs the company’s highest potential diverse talent — both men and women — with a VP or SVP “advocate” in a different function and different geography over a nine-month period.

What is your organization doing to promote this type of strategic matchmaking? How can you develop sponsor relationships and get the exposure you need to break through to the top? I’d love to hear your comments.

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  1. narelle monaghan
    Posted June 2, 2010 at 8:17 pm | Permalink

    Unfortunately I can’t offer any examples of what my organisation is doing to promote strategic match-making, mainly because like many women I am working in a small-to-medium enterprise. In this type of employment, organisations rarely have the resources or people-base to do this sort of thing effectively.

    Does anyone have ideas about how to find a sponsor / mentor outside their own organisation? Or is this sort of opportunity only really available through large organisations?

  2. Posted April 8, 2011 at 4:48 pm | Permalink

    I would like to talk to someone to help me get the word out about my very first book. It took me five years to write it. It came from the heart. Hope you can give me some advice.
    Thank you Laura Troester

  3. Posted January 5, 2012 at 2:05 am | Permalink

    I favor the pain you are stating even if I don’t actually understand anything that an individual mentioned. It is not the identical here’s Asian countries. The natives perhaps see it a bit in another way. I usually love to hunt for a Oriental girl’s perspective.

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  1. [...] first got a clue about this was reading an excellent post From Lynn Harris where she nets this exact point out. A sponsor is more than a mentor. Sponsors [...]

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