November 03, 2017

New Ideas for Sponsoring Women at Work

Danielle Ng-See-Quan

Dani is the Managing Editor, Content Marketing at Ceridian.

#MoveTheDial is a movement dedicated to increasing the participation and advancement of women in technology. The group recently hosted a hackathon in Toronto (of which Ceridian was a sponsor) where small teams solved for new ways to create tools that facilitate more impactful career sponsorship for women.

Central to the hackathon was the idea that sponsorship is powerful and necessary for the advancement of women at work. But beyond simply talking about it, how can employers take action in establishing sponsorship relationships, and maintain their longevity?

The ideas presented covered a spectrum of suggestions, and while ideas were plentiful – and actionable – the hackathon highlighted some challenges in implementing the sponsorship process seamlessly within organizations.

From the perspective of Justine Kilby, Ceridian’s Head of Strategy, the biggest challenge is the gap between sponsors and sponsorees. That is, there are people who want to be sponsored but can’t find sponsors, or sponsors who want to participate, but aren’t clear on who they can impact.

“We need to create opportunities to cultivate those initial conversations and relationships that connect these folks, and then help facilitate the development of these relationships into meaningful sponsorship,” Kilby says. For example, weaving succession planning processes into sponsorship could be one way to facilitate growth of successors as well as an opportunity for leaders to meaningfully develop people, she adds.

This idea also resonated with Lisa Bull, Ceridian’s VP, Employee and Leadership Learning. For Ceridian’s #GoSponsorHer launch, Bull brought together high-potential sponsorees and interested executive sponsors to enable potential matches, a process she says she would like to continue to facilitate.

While the hackathon focused on ideas for processes and implementation, Ceridian VP Corporate Marketing Sarah Terrelonge notes that success of those initiatives rests fundamentally on creating a culture of sponsorship. And that starts, she says, with shifting to an active, versus passive, mindset in which sponsorship is intrinsic. That could mean, she adds, finding opportunities for sponsorship outside of the traditional settings.

“Sponsorship can be a moment, or long-term,” Terrelonge says. “Success comes from changing the way you think about it and understanding its true value.”

The following are Kilby, Bull and Terrelonge’s top takeaways for taking action with sponsorship.

Tips for Putting Sponsorship into Action

Facilitate the matching process

Bull highlighted one of the hackathon teams’ ideas of enabling the sponsorship process by bringing together sponsor/sponsoree pools, out of which the one-on-one relationships could form. Interested sponsors, and women interested in being sponsored, would be invited to monthly storytelling events, where the potential sponsorees would share information about themselves (including their careers and successes).

Start sponsorship relationships as mentorships

Sponsorship relationships can’t begin without a foundation; it must be organic. Both parties should have the opportunity to get to know each other before taking the relationship to the next level, and for the potential sponsor to understand the sponsoree’s aspirations, further understand if they can impact them, and for both parties to explore whether or not it’s the right match. In many cases, matching typically happens organically, with a senior leader identifying a woman they know and has worked with, and offering to sponsor her.
Define a sponsorship contract

Maximize the benefits of a sponsorship relationship through a “contract” concept – that is, being clear about what both parties need out of the relationship. This could include anything from outlining both the sponsor and sponsoree’s goals and expectations for the relationship, to defining how often meetings will take place. This creates both accountability and motivation, and a reference point from which to build the relationship.

Educate leaders and talent across the organization

The number of sponsorship relationships can be increased by teaching leaders about the importance and impact of sponsorship, and how to sponsor (#GoSponsorHer, for example, offers a toolkit including stats and steps for sponsorship). Then, challenge those leaders to reach out to high-potential employees or sponsorees to establish a sponsorship relationship. It’s equally important to educate employees at all levels of the organization about the value of sponsorship and how to seek out those opportunities, but also how they could provide sponsorship to others. This way, the relationship has the potential to be initiated by either party, at any level of the organization.

Sponsorship can take many forms

Sponsorship relationships don’t always have to exist within the organization in which both parties work, or through succession planning. They can be industry-specific, based on a referral, or even built off a previous customer relationship or professional development experience. Additionally, while some sponsorship relationships last for years, others may be shorter-term (a referral to a new job, for example) and just as valuable to a woman’s career.

Related: Four Ways to Advance Equality in the Workplace

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