March 2, 2023

Sponsorship: Why does it matter?

Last week, we put out a LinkedIn poll asking if people knew the difference between mentorship and sponsorship. 39% of respondents were unsure. It was also common feedback through the pilot ISC Sponsorship Scheme that both protégés and sponsors would’ve benefitted from a better understanding of the difference and what sponsorship looks like in concrete and tangible terms. So, although it also provides an avenue to blow our own trumpet, we really wanted to showcase how clarity around targeted development programmes can provide faster and more impactful results.

Rather than providing support and guidance, like a mentor, a sponsor acts as an advocate, putting their protégé forward for opportunities and vocalising their skill and value. Given their status, the sponsor is going to have access to spaces in which the protégé does not operate. By ensuring their name is brought up and their successes highlighted, sponsors can ensure greater visibility and credit. A sponsor actively uses their position to help elevate their protégé through providing access to a wider network, as building relationships and connections can be more difficult for women, given the natural affinity and networks already formed in more male-dominated leadership teams [1]. It is also a way to help with networking and broadening opportunities. One participant of the ISC Sponsorship Scheme gave a ‘9/10 recommendation on career development’ hinging on the protégé having clear goals for what they wanted to gain from the scheme. This rings true on speaking to another participant who desired greater international experience and after voicing that to her sponsor has been involved in exactly that.  The clarity of motivation, combined with a sponsor who could immediately place their protégé into the correct spaces results in successful opportunities and a high level of satisfaction from both parties.  

In the feedback received from the participants in the ISC Sponsorship Scheme, many sponsors also cited that they saw a dramatic increase in their protégés' level of self-confidence. This is a particularly interesting outcome given that women are frequently touted as struggling to put themselves forward for opportunities, seeing themselves as as qualified compared to their male counterparts or owning their successes. Even if these relationships were to exist only in a twelve-month period (which was the case for our pilot scheme), we can project that the increased self-confidence will carry forward and continue to help those women succeed. The support of a sponsor has a longevity that guidance does not.  

The relationship can also help combat unconscious biases whilst simultaneously increasing diversity. Sponsorship helps retain diverse talent as men and women and minority employees with a sponsor feel more satisfied with their career advancement than those without [1]. A commitment to sponsorship leaves behind a cohort of talent who share the values and appreciation of sponsorship. This, in turn, is likely to result in more sponsorship in the years to come, after the sponsor has moved on. It is a way of leaving a legacy of talent development and mutual support [2].

If you are still not convinced that sponsorship belongs within your arsenal of career development programmes, I leave will you with the following testimonials from participants:

‘I got more out of it than I ever thought I would.’ Protégé, Canada

‘One of the best programmes I have been involved in.’ Sponsor, Canada




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