December 11th 2019

CRFCast – The Sponsor Effect: How Sponsorship Improves Leadership Capability and Diversity at the Top, with Sylvia Ann Hewlett

In conversation with Sylvia Ann Hewlett, an expert in talent and gender issues, we discuss her latest book, The Sponsor Effect: How to Be a Better Leader by Investing in Others. We discuss how sponsorship can enhance the careers of sponsors themselves as well as their protégés, why it’s sponsorship, and not mentorship, that really counts in progressing the leadership careers of women and minorities, and how we can design impactful sponsorship programmes in our organisations.

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Episode transcript

Gillian Pillans [00:00:03] You're listening to the CRF cast where we explore research we've been working on here at the Corporate Research Forum, and we discuss the latest thinking in strategic H.R. topics with academics, practitioners and leading experts in the field. I'm Gillian Pillans, research director at CRF. You can explore the full podcast archive and subscribe for updates by searching CRF cast on iTunes or Spotify. You can also find more about CRF and access all our podcasts and other research materials at WDW W Dot C.R. Forum DOT CO DOT UK.

 

Gillian Pillans [00:00:48] My guest on today's serious cast is Sylvia Hewlett, who's an expert in talent and gender issues. She's also the author of multiple books, including her most recent publication, The Sponsor Effect How to Be a Better Leader by Investing in Others. In this book, Sylvia sets out her most recent research, which looks at how sponsorship can enhance the careers of sponsors themselves as well as their personages. Sylvia's data show that while we might expect proteges to see positive effects of being sponsored, sponsors actually benefit too in a variety of ways, most notably by increasing their chances of being promoted. Leaders who have proteges were around 50 percent more likely to have received a promotion in the previous two years. The sponsor effect also summarizes Sylvia's research into the common features of effective sponsors. She's developed a playbook with seven steps that sponsors can follow if they want to both do a good job as a sponsor and gain the benefits of sponsoring up and coming talent in our conversation. We discuss sports sponsorship, how it's different to mentorship, and the benefits of sponsorship for the careers of both sponsors and pushes. We'll drill down into the particular challenges and benefits for women of being part of a sponsorship relationship, and then we'll finish off by discussing how to make sponsorship succeed in our organizations by designing impactful sponsorship programs.

 

Gillian Pillans [00:02:15] Sylvia, thank you very much for being with us today. Can we just start with some definitions? There's a lot of terminology in this space. We hear words like sponsor and mentor about bandied around. So can you just share with us what's the difference between sponsorship and mentorship and why? Why is sponsorship particularly beneficial?

 

Sylvia Hewlett [00:02:34] Gillian, you're totally right. There is a lot of confusion in terms of the distinctions. Mentorship is when a somewhat more experienced person gives you some professional advice. Right. It is guidance. It's perhaps about your next steps in your career. And oftentimes a mentor becomes a shoulder to lean on a place to go when you're struggling. And it really is about oftentimes building confidence, but it is very much a one way street. It's the somewhat older person, more experienced person giving you this, you know, counselling. Sponsorship is very different. It's a very deliberate invest. It is a senior person who sits in a spot where they can open doors for you. Right. Deliberately investing in you because they see you as potentially very valuable. Your performance is high. You're very trustworthy. And you have some kind of set of skills, a value add that is very important to the group. And in this case, in the sponsorship case, you are expected to deliver. Right. It's a two way street. In fact, often times I say, look, you have to give before you get because you have to prove that you can actually come through those things before the senior person is going to take a risk on you and perhaps use up political capital on your behalf. And in my life, you know, I made the big mistake in my 20s of feeling that all I needed was a mentor. And so in my first job, I was assistant professor of economics at Columbia University. I thought I checked all the boxes. You know, I worked like crazy. I published I want a teaching prise. And I found myself is very kind mental. An older woman who took me under her wing. She was a senior professor. And she really went on her way to give me all kinds of advice, which helped me adjust to the job. But the fact is, five years down the road, when I was up for tenure and facing a huge watershed moment in my career and it was useless. She was trying to be supportive, but she was a medieval historian. I was in a convent. So her support did not count for any. And what I had not been doing during those five years is very proactively also seeking out a more strategic relationship with a sponsor, someone in my field who I could impress, who perhaps I could give papers, co write articles with. I had not been doing because I thought the mentor was the thing I need. So what I say and what I prove in this look I've been doing is that women tend to go for mentors. We have a lot of them. In fact, we have two times more mentors than men. But many of us fail to find sponsors at these key points in our career lives.

 

Gillian Pillans [00:05:41] Your research shows there are substantial benefits that come with being a sponsor. For example, your data show that women who have proteges are 50 percent more likely to have been promoted in the last two years. Yet we know women are under sponsored relative to men. If you're an ambitious woman. Are there particular steps you can take to improve your chances of getting a good sponsor?

 

Sylvia Hewlett [00:06:00] Women have issues in seeking out earnings sponsorship. They also have issues being sponsors. And you know, it's very important to stress both things because if a middle or senior person who is sponsoring a junior talent has a 53 percent pump when they really sponsor. If women are only sponsoring at half the rate as men, you know they are suffering as a consequence. And what I find in the data and on this front, it's really very new data.

 

Sylvia Hewlett [00:06:41] Women tend to over mentor.

 

Sylvia Hewlett [00:06:45] They give it all away, is dead of developing the more transactional and strategic relationships where they deliberately pick a couple of younger females, perhaps, or anyone actually who is high performing, invest in them and expect them to deliver very tangible things in terms of their progress. One reason is that women are very admirably, you know, want to pay it forward. The average woman of colour, African-American woman in particular in the US, who is a senior director, for instance, has 23 mentees. Because, you know, I think a lot of women leaders feel that they are obligated. They want to pay it forward because they are so important to the lives of younger talent. And I admire that enormously. And we should all do some mentoring. I'm just give advice on that level. But unless you proactively sponsor as well, you will stall out, right? You will not progress because you don't have the wind behind your sails. Right. Of a little posse that's delivering like crazy feet. And men do this transactional thing much more readily. And again, there's a lot of data, not just mine, which shows that women are very good at forming friendships at work. They have many more friends than men do, but they want to use those friendships to close the next deal or get on a team that they really want to be on. They feel in a way it contaminates the affection or the bonds that they have. Men feel that that is what friendship is about. It's about I scratch your back, you scratch my head. And that seems to be a second muscle for men. And women need to acquire at least some of that.

 

Sylvia Hewlett [00:08:43] So I think that women are in the middle ranks and the junior leadership ranks. Women right now are neither proactively seeking sponsorship strenuously enough, nor are they sponsoring younger high performing down.

 

Sylvia Hewlett [00:09:07] And I think that if we could crack both of those things, it would transform the ability of women to move from the middle.

 

Gillian Pillans [00:09:18] Sylvia, your previous book on sponsorship for Get a Mentor or Find a Sponsor, which was published in 2013, showed how important sponsorship was to the career progression of women. But the world has changed considerably since then. In particular, I'm thinking about the ME2 movement, which is casting a shadow on relationships between men and women at work. What impact is this having on the sponsor process a relationship? And what steps can we take to make sure women don't lose out on sponsorship opportunities as a result?

 

Sylvia Hewlett [00:09:47] You know, the risk I'm keenly aware of because I've been collecting data on this is the shadow cast by the ME Tube movement on the possibility of sponsorship between men and women. A lot of senior men feel a little nervous. And so I both measured this. You know, about 40 percent of senior men now are unsure as to whether they are able to sponsor women because it does mean getting to know women spending time with women.

 

Sylvia Hewlett [00:10:22] So I have created a whole set of action steps that you can take to make it safe. And this needs to operate on both sides. Because clearly women can signal that it's purely a professional relationship as well as men. You know, this is not our responsibility that is all on the head of the senior person. There are very simple things that can really make this quite safe one. One thing is where and how you meet the company cafeteria rather than at bars late at night. More importantly, isn't a piece of advice that actually I got from a leader at Google, which is that you've got to be boisterous about it. You're going to be noisy. It could be public. You could talk up your protege all the time about how amazingly credentialed she is and what she is doing for the team. You have to have a present at the next team meeting, stuff like that. So it's totally clear to everyone, you know, that this is some special time. And that is obviously why you are developing this buzz.

 

Gillian Pillans [00:11:38] Coming up in the second part of the CRF Cast, we'll discuss a charge role in making sponsorship a success within the organization. And we'll talk about how to evaluate the business impact of sponsorship activities.

 

Gillian Pillans [00:11:56] If you're enjoying the CRF cast, please subscribe to our channel by searching for the Corporate Research Forum on iTunes or Spotify, you can sign up to get the latest editions automatically and to share with your colleagues and leave as a review.

 

Gillian Pillans [00:12:12] We hear a lot from CRF members there. They're trying to put organizational sponsorship programs in place. They're often finding that they they don't really stick. They don't get traction. And from the way you describe sponsorship, it is very much a one to one relationship. It relies on trust at an organizational level. How can we make these more formal sponsorship programs succeed?

 

Sylvia Hewlett [00:12:41] What seems to work best is that there is some light fingered matching and the senior person gets a lot of choice as to who he or she takes off. The individuals are offered a pathway to sponsorship because you cannot give someone a sponsor and both sides of the equation have some master classes. They actually get some information in terms of the steps and how to make this work on the individual level. And it either takes off or it does and it can be quite simple. I mean, I'll give you one example of one of the simplest programs. One of the big financial players in New York decided that the notch point for their company was at managing director level. They got a pretty good sized class of women, you know, to that point, and then very few rows up after that. So what they did is that they got this class of newly appointed female M.D. and they created out a monthly breakfast briefing starting at 7:00 in the morning. They invited a revolving door of their senior people and the task of newly promoted female M.D.. They took on a business issue or a client challenge each time, and they had the women present. They did some very clever seating at this breakfast. And the women got to actually perform and show how much they knew about whatever was at hand and also got to practice their gravitas and all kinds of things and sponsorship.

 

Sylvia Hewlett [00:14:22] Because what that did, it allowed them to meet one another in a context where the tried and tested duty talent because there was no performance issue. They just beat promoters. I have a lot of examples of this hybrid, if you like, where there is some social engineering and there is some real preparation on both sides, but then it needs to be OK. So so it needs a lot of thought behind it. But to be quite light. Touch. Light. Touch. Yeah. Yes. Yeah. Right. I mean, voices again. You know, one of the big bands famously started a sponsorship program. Lots of enthusiasm because you start with a lot of committed senior people, which is fantastic. I'm one of the tricks here is not a waste of energy. And they distributed as 37 page harmful to the spots, all the stuff they were supposed to do for their prodigies. They didn't put the proteges on the hook for anything. In other words, they totally misunderstood what sponsorship was because actually it's the politicians who needed to 70 percent of the work you've got to give before you get them, because unless you prove your performance still trustworthiness and the fact you have a value add to the team, you're not going to get sponsored. So, you know, this is why this preparation and these playbooks I've been developing, I think can be useful.

 

Gillian Pillans [00:15:52] So in your book, you set out the playbook for it for sponsors. But in your experience, does that come naturally to leaders or is it is it is it is it a set of skills that they have to learn? And if it is the sort of learned behaviour, are there things we can be doing in our organizations, too? And I guess it works on both sides, both for sponsors and for proteges to help them build those skills to be to be good at those respective roles.

 

Sylvia Hewlett [00:16:23] Top notch leaders are already doing some of these things and it might not be that self-conscious. Right. Perhaps not even using the word. But if they are, you know, proactively identifying two or three key talents, if they are including folks who do not look like hell, if they are really giving key instructions and inspiring these people. The reason I went out there and created these word portraits of forty three sponsor protege pairs was to show what was happening in the trenches. Now it's distilling out what great leaders are already doing. I think what a people can do, particularly since it's each of them has data, but also real life examples from this here is enhance leaders toolkit. And also the data in terms of what's going wrong right now is very stark. Only 23 percent of executives ever choose a protege who's not a mini. Me too. Two very deliberately have it be somewhat diaper is something that many leaders are not doing.

 

Gillian Pillans [00:17:37] I wonder what advice you might have for those who are responsible for identifying and developing future leaders within the organization and how they can use what you've learned through your work to use sponsorship in the best way to bring on the new leadership population in the organization?

 

Sylvia Hewlett [00:17:58] Well, first off, and each leader needs the models themselves. I've been on a an external committee at Fox News. And the purpose of this external committee is to help the brand new head of H.R. create a diverse team capable of transforming that culture. Well, the first thing you have to do is create a team that was is diverse. You can't be what you can't see. So I think that is an extremely important. And you can't become a talent magnet as a major department unless you have some leaders who don't look like you. So I think that's number one. Number two, I think this light touch program or initiative, which leans very heavily on the organic connection. And I think there are lots of models out there right now. For instance, JNJ did a great job in allowing functional leaders to nominate younger talent who the actual business felt were the next crop of fabulous, you know, talent. And then the choice was between those.

 

Sylvia Hewlett [00:19:21] Throw it to business leaders is a fantastic way to go because, you know, the most elaborate matching on the part of a jaw sometimes cannot work because the business leaders aren't enthusiastic about the folks in the pool. So let the market speak.

 

Sylvia Hewlett [00:19:40] And it is this combination of preparing the predators and the sponsors. Understanding that a lot of people need to do both things and then kicking off something that jump starts. And I think to present it as a rolling opportunity is great. Maybe a H every 18 months to refresh this light touch matching because you don't want individuals to wonder. Just think of it as some kind of new club that's just been created that is somehow exclusive. Perhaps this year you did not get in this pool, but you could next to the topic of evaluation.

 

Gillian Pillans [00:20:22] It's something that H.R. doesn't necessarily do enough of when we think about sponsorship and some sponsorship programs that organizations might do. Do you have any thoughts on how you might evaluate their effectiveness?

 

Sylvia Hewlett [00:20:34] Well, you know, companies like Intel, like American Express, Unilever, they've collected very good figures in terms of the impact of sponsorship, whether it be purely organic sponsorship or something that came out of it in the initiative.

 

Sylvia Hewlett [00:20:57] And for instance, the figures at Intel are amazing.

 

Sylvia Hewlett [00:21:01] You know, two thirds of the female engineers who access sponsors sponsorship did get a bigger role or promotion. So these figures are obviously very encouraging. One of the big impacts of sponsorship is not just promotion, by the way, is retention. A female scientist or engineer is almost 40 percent more likely to stick around at a company if she has a sponsor. I think that to evaluate it in terms of what it did to retention as well as what it did to promotion is pretty magical. But the other thing which I feel is elected is to have some internal videos which feature a sponsor protege pairs and have a leader or the team leader in that video.

 

Sylvia Hewlett [00:21:57] Talk about the benefits to him or her. Right. So that we understand from our own culture as an employee that, hey, you know, if I go do this, I get all kinds of good stuff happening to me. As the you know, the senior player in this part. So getting the sponsor to talk about talk about what it's what it's done for them and they're ready for that yet. And in fact, that's what I've done in this book. You know, this is the list.

 

Sylvia Hewlett [00:22:24] These are the tangible things that happened, you know, to this team, to our platform in the world, to the success of our mission or what happened to the bottom line. And it's very tangible. I'm not can be a huge shift in terms of how people see this, because it's very tempting to just think of it as kind of souped up mentoring.

 

Sylvia Hewlett [00:22:50] And mentoring is an expenditure. Of energy. It's not an investor.

 

Gillian Pillans [00:23:04] Before we finish, let's take a moment to summarize the key messages of my conversation with Sylvia Ann Hewlett first, while it's long been established that sponsorship is essential to career progression for the procedure.

 

Gillian Pillans [00:23:15] What we can also say is that being a sponsor brings its own benefits to the sponsors performance and career progression. Second, research shows that women are generally over mentored and under sponsored relative to men.

 

Gillian Pillans [00:23:28] This is probably one of many factors that hold back the careers of women and other minorities and continues to hamper their progression to the most senior levels in organizations. For those organizations and H.R. leaders looking to achieve greater diversity in their senior executive teams, sponsorship needs to be one of the elements in the mix of career support that's provided to high potential talent.

 

Gillian Pillans [00:23:50] Third, while sponsorship is a personal relationship that relies on trust between the sponsor and protege, and that's something that can't be forced by formal programs or initiatives.

 

Gillian Pillans [00:24:01] There are actions we can take in our organizations to support sponsorship, for example, teaching both sponsors and processes about what's expected of them creating opportunities for sponsors to see potential proteges in action in real life business situations, and making sure sponsors choose a diverse mix of proteges so they're not just promoting mini mes. You can find out more about Sofia's research on sponsorship, including the playbook, which sets out seven steps for a successful sponsorship relationships. In her book, The Sponsor Effect How to Be a Better Leader By Investing in Others. Thanks again to Sylvia and Hewlett for taking the time to be with us.

 

Gillian Pillans [00:24:47] You've been listening to the series cast with me, Gillian Pillans, research director at CRF. You can find out more on our website at W W W Dot C R Forum dot co dot UK. Follow us on Twitter at C underscore R underscore forum or join the CRF grip on link 10 by phone. And thanks for listening.

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