Forging and developing career-building relationships, or the lack thereof, is one barrier women face in the workplace that can hinder leadership progression. There are not enough women represented in leadership, and this in large part is due to not getting high-stake assignments which are critical for being considered for leadership and C-Suite Roles.

Often, this is due to a lack of influential sponsors demanding and ensuring that they get these stepping-stone jobs.

Sponsorship can be powerful mechanism to overcome this barrier. Sponsorship is also a significant and effective professional relationship for women’s success.

Sponsorship is active support by someone appropriately placed in the organisation who has significant influence on decision-making processes or structures. A sponsor is someone who can spot talent and is willing to advocate for, protect, and fight for the career advancement of an individual.

According to the 2018-2019 Workplace Gender Equality Agency scorecard, women make up 50.2% of the Australian workforce yet just 31.5% of women make up Senior Leadership Teams. As seniority increases, representation of women decreases with women comprising just 17.1% of all CEOs.

Statistics in the gaming industry are even more sobering; women hold just 3.8% of CEOs positions, and 25.6% of females make up Senior Leadership teams.

As Catalyst research confirms, despite the numerous business contributions of women leaders, men are still largely seen as the leaders by default. It’s what researchers call the “think-leader-think-male” mindset. As “atypical leaders,” women are often perceived as going against the norms of leadership or those of femininity. Caught between impossible choices, those who try to conform to traditional—i.e., masculine—leadership behaviors are damned if they do, doomed if they don’t.

We need to address the challenge of female representation at senior levels by targeting the career advancement of women in general and advocating the progression of high performing women in particular.

Benefits of a Career Sponsor

Sponsorship has the potential to breakdown some of the barriers women face in the workplace and when done effectively, it can:

  1. Accelerate the careers of high performers
  2. Help individuals meet the unique challenges of executive roles and alleviate the perceived risks associated with moving into new areas with little experience
  3. Address the challenge of female representation at senior levels by targeting the career advancement of women in general and advocating the progression of high performing women in particular
  4. Guide an individual towards opportunities that can maximise movement towards career goals, especially those that may not be so obvious
  5. Develop the leadership skills and reputation of senior leaders who act as sponsors as they are able to gain feedback, as well as learn more about the way the organisation operates at all levels
  6. Ensure that high performers are visible within the organisation.

Steps to finding your Career Sponsor

Sponsorship works and is critical for women’s success. So, if you would like someone that can open more career doors for you than you thought possible, here are six steps, as published by The Muse, you can take to attract the attention of an influential sponsor:

  1. Perform
    Great performance must come first. You can’t expect a sponsor to advocate for you and put his or her own reputation on the line to speak up on your behalf if you’re not going above and beyond in your role.
  2. Know Who the Good Sponsors Are
    This can be tricky, but see if you can identify the leaders in your organisation who have a track record of being talent developers and talent scouts. For example, listen for leaders who publicly praise employees, back them up on contentious issues, and offer challenging assignments to up-and-comers who have not yet proven themselves. That’s who you want on your side.
  3. Raise Your Hand for Exposure Opportunities
    You can’t expect a sponsor to put his or her reputation on the line when he or she doesn’t know the quality of your work and what you’re capable of. So, look for a special project working directly for one of the potential sponsors you identified in the previous step, or try to join special task forces or committees he or she serves on. Your goal here is for the sponsor to see you in action and directly experience the quality of work you can deliver.
  4. Make Your Value Visible
    Whatever you do, don’t be the best-kept secret in the organisation! Once you achieve something noteworthy, make your achievements visible to your leaders.For example, if you bump into a potential sponsor the cafeteria line, ask how he or she is doing. Chances are he or she will ask you the same, so have a ready-to-share sound bite about a recent accomplishment, so you can respond, “I’m doing well. I just heard I’ve been nominated for engineer of the year!”And re-write your elevator speech so that every time you introduce yourself, you’ll be showcasing your leadership skills and the value you add to your organisation.
  5. Have Clear Career Goals
    You must have clarity about your career goals! There’s little chance a sponsor is going to know what opportunities to match you with if you don’t even know what you want for yourself.
  6. Share Your Career Goals With Your Leaders
    This is the clincher. If you are a demonstrated high performer and have clear career goals, sharing those goals with your manager, your mentors, and leaders can often be enough to enlist their sponsorship.

Sponsorship can come to you in different ways. You never know who is watching you, so be ‘sponsor-ready’ at all times.