Rekindle 2.0 - this is Amazon India’s initiative to enable and empower women who are returning from extended career breaks to rebuild their careers. From peer-learning programs to roles and assignments, Rekindle 2.0 enables effective learning and performance across key roles, including leadership.
This is precisely the type of corporate sponsorship that is required to enable women to reach executive and leadership positions. Yet, this has proved elusive for many organizations to achieve this end.
How can companies reinvent their approach to develop strong and effective women leaders?
Sponsorship – a vital stepping stone to leadership development
To understand why sponsorship is critical for women to rise to executive roles, let us understand what it takes to groom leaders. Potential executives need to be provided with opportunities with guidance from leaders with responsibility and authority.
It calls for handholding on two levels. The first is mentorship where coaching and support is provided – along with strategic information and context on how to get ahead and rise in the organization – including establishing connections with influencers in the organization. The second involves advocacy where leaders with authority can provide opportunities in high visibility roles, and push for the executive’s ascent into leadership positions.
Organizations that profess a commitment to the development of women in leadership roles find it easier to work at the mentorship level but struggle with the advocacy part. Unless there is a well-etched process that empowers and motivates senior executives to expend their personal capital to support, coach, and advocate women’s development, the initiative will sputter at the mentorship level.
Architecting an end-to-end sponsorship process
An effective sponsorship program calls for a strategic approach to raise women in the leadership spectrum.
A good place to start is to have a continuous and relevant assessment of potential leaders amongst women, closely aligned to the organization’s vision and goals. Organizations must be attuned to their talent pipeline, with active measures to identify high-performing women and support their success.
Once shortlisted, the women executives need to be mapped to sponsors based on their strengths, potential and possible roles they would fit into. The right mapping will unleash ongoing conversations to explore and understand their career ambitions and potential fit with opportunities opening up in their organization. For purposeful sponsorship that adds true value, leaders must be well apprised of their high potential protégé. They can then enable her to gain access to the right information and inputs, be placed in the right mission-critical assignments, and connected to the right leaders for visibility.
Most importantly, such initiatives must operate as a high-priority enterprise leadership development process - with tangible, measurable and trackable benchmarks of success. Companies who want to improve their financial results and diversity must develop sponsors for diverse talent at all levels in their organization. And leaders must be taught how to become effective sponsors.
Deloitte, for example, asks every executive and global board member to sponsor at least one woman. These leaders, in turn, set the same expectation in their teams, thereby creating a sponsorship chain through the entire organization. And, in the process, setting in motion an accelerated career path for women.
Empowering all to be their best selves at work
Sponsorship is a two-way street to bring the best of everyone in the workplace. The goal may be focused on empowering women, but it has a huge and all-round positive impact. When executed well, sponsorship leads to a surge of individual and collective excellence within an organization. It is a win-all situation - for the protégé, the sponsor, and the organization.
For the protégé, it is a great stepping stone and a fast track to career advancement through exposure and promotion. She is championed for potential opportunities that will expand her skills and capabilities, and expose her to a broader thought process of leadership. For the senior leader and sponsor, it is a unique opportunity to broaden their perspectives and expand their own networks. As they display ownership for making it happen, they enhance their impact across their organizations. And the organization benefits from a diverse, inclusive, and equitable workforce at all levels. This raises the quality of organizational performance through the better decision making and operational excellence.
Research studies consistently show a direct relationship between sponsorship and the rise of women to leadership positions. However, it requires a generous investment of time, effort, and money, especially at the middle management level. Here is where women often hit the pause button in their careers – and fail to reach executive roles. If done well, sponsorship can provide women a vital push towards game-changing opportunities.