Sponsors can make a world of difference in anyone’s career, but research shows that they can be especially important for female or other employees who are a minority in a majority-group environment. Below are some important tips for identifying potential protégés and for being an effective sponsor:
- Seek out information on issues of diversity, inclusion, and leadership.
- Identify underrepresented employees who demonstrate initiative, motivation, and are self-directed.
- Remember that what worked for you may not work for your protégés.
- Be on the lookout for and connect your protégés to valuable career opportunities.
- Provide support and encouragement for your protégés to take risks.
- Endorse your protégés and make their work visible to other leaders within and outside the company.
- Be on the lookout for specific advancement and promotion opportunities for your protégés.
- Help your protégés navigate biases in the workplace.
- Intervene when you think others may be making biased assessments about your protégés (or about anyone, really).
- Set specific goals for your sponsorships.
Whether or not you yourself are an underrepresented employee, it is important to understand how factors like bias, microinequities, and stereotype threat affect the experiences of underrepresented employees in the tech field and in your specific workplace.
Also consider how biases may lead you to recognize these qualities more easily in “people like you.” Actively work to expand your ideas of what “initiative” or “motivation” look like (e.g., quieter folks may still may have lots of initiative and may make good leaders).
Pathways to professional success can be as different as the people who travel them. This may be especially true for people in one or multiple minority groups within the majority group environment of your workplace.
These opportunities may include working with you, with other leaders in the organization, and on other innovative projects or work teams. They may also include speaking opportunities or other visible platforms within or outside the organization.
Taking risks in one’s career is necessary for innovation, creativity, and growth. Yet, risk-taking can be especially tricky when one is a minority in a majority-group environment. Encourage your protégé to take risks that will help meet their career goals. And since risks do not always result in success, be prepared to provide cover when your protégé struggles.
Do so publicly and privately, and let protégés know you are endorsing them. This can build their confidence, as well as their credibility in the eyes of others.
Be aware of your protégés’ advancement goals and put in a good word for them when promotions, special projects, and unannounced leadership opportunities arise.
Be open to talking about your protégés’ experiences with biases and brainstorm together ways to work around or address these biases together.
For example, statements that someone “is a bit too aggressive,” “isn’t leadership material,” or “isn’t a great fit” often mask unconscious biases. Question these statements and ask others to do so as well.
Like any project, set specific targets and timelines, understanding that sponsorships need not last forever. Such targets may include promotion of a protégé within one year, accomplishing specific professional goals, or sponsorship exit strategies and entry into new sponsorships.
Additional Resources & References
- Supervising-in-a-Box Series available at https://ncwit.org/resource/supervising/
- Top 10 Ways to Be a Male Advocate for Technical Women available at https://ncwit.org/resource/top10maleadvocate/
- Male Advocates and Allies: Promoting Gender Diversity in Technology Workplaces available at https://ncwit.org/resource/maleadvocateindustry/
- Hewlett, S.A. & Sherbin, L. with F. Dieudonné, C. Fargnoli, & C. Fredman. (2014). Athena Factor 2.0: Accelerating Female Talent in Science, Engineering & Technology. New York, NY: Center for Talent Innovation.