The Power of Sponsorship for Inclusive Leadership Teams

Finding the right sponsor gains you the advocacy and visibility needed to elevate your career

When it comes to gender diversity, women are increasingly realizing the need to step forward – obstacles or not – and claim the space that is rightfully theirs. To support them, sponsorship is an excellent way for organizations to facilitate gender balance and, by proxy, improve their bottom line.

We explored the topic of sponsorship in relation to inclusive leadership at a recent WeQual event, where we were thrilled to host Umang Vohra, Managing Director and Global Chief Executive Officer at pharmaceutical giant Cipla.

“Sponsorship is about advocacy,” says Umang. “It’s about your voice and where it’s going to be heard.” The active support system of sponsorship is invaluable for helping achieve a much-needed balance in business.

“Don’t have any self-doubts about whether you can do it as well as anyone else. Believe you can do it better.” 

Sponsorship Versus Mentorship

Unlike a mentor, who would typically provide guidance and advice, a sponsor actively advocates for career advancement. A sponsor acts like an amplifier for those whose voice needs to be heard above the background noise.

A sponsor will lend their influence to help others climb the career ladder, speaking to influential people and singing the praises of their sponsee or initiative. According to Umang, when both are used side by side, this significantly aids in support and development.

What Makes an Effective Sponsor?

Being a sponsor means taking time out of an already busy schedule. Clear communication is key – clarify and align and set realistic expectations about how much time and effort will be required from them to perform sponsorship duties.

Being a passionate advocate of the cause or the individual is a huge bonus – a sponsor will act as a cheerleader, aligning the success of the cause with the core aims and values of the business. A sponsor who is a persuasive communicator is more likely to get the core message across and gain support from stakeholders.

A good sponsor will set up key meetings, reviews and checkpoints to ensure the shared vision is on track for success. Being actively engaged is the biggest success factor in effective sponsorship.

Sponsorship and Gender Diversity

According to a Harvard Business Review, too few women are reaching the top leadership positions in their organizations, and one of the biggest reasons is that they’re not being assigned the high-stakes assignments to elevate them to a C-suite position. Often, this is due to a lack of powerful sponsors behind them – sponsors create visibility and help drive forward the career goals of their sponsee.

How to Find the Right Sponsor

Finding the right sponsor isn’t always easy. It involves strategic thinking and effort. Umang shares his insights for women looking to work alongside a sponsor on their career journey.  

  • Look for leaders whose career path aligns with your aspirations. They should be individuals with influence and a network that can significantly boost your visibility. Think about the bigger picture: “Link back to the focus of your organization,” says Umang, “your organization’s inclusion is very important.” 
  • Demonstrate value: Be visible in your contributions. Engage in projects or roles that align with your potential sponsor’s interest, showcasing your skills, dedication and potential. “Pick up things you think might interest a sponsor and pick up things you think are important for your organization,” Umang advises. 
  • Create a shortlist: “If you make a list of three or four people that you believe are great sponsors, make sure that they find you. What are you doing to make yourself seen? Remember, a sponsor is equally interested in meeting you.” 
  • Network: “Attend external events. Begin to contribute to their social media feed. Get yourself on their radar.” 
  • Lose self-doubt: “Don’t have any self-doubts about whether you can do it as well as anyone else. Believe you can do it better.” 
  • Don’t wait: “Do not wait for diversity and inclusion policies to come to you. Have the action orientation to further your voice, to further your career.”

Facilitating Sponsorship as an Organization

Organizations play a crucial role in facilitating environments where sponsorship can thrive. The following are just some of the ways your company can support women in finding the right sponsors.  

  • Create sponsorship programs: Develop formal sponsorship programs that pair emerging women leaders with established executives, ensuring these relationships are supported and monitored for effectiveness. 
  • Promote a culture of sponsorship: Encourage a corporate culture that values sponsorship as much as mentorship. Highlight success stories of sponsorship within the organization to inspire others. 
  • Provide training on sponsorship: Offer training for both potential sponsors and those seeking sponsorship, focusing on the roles, responsibilities, and benefits of these relationships.  

 

Sponsorship really does play a pivotal role in the gender diversity agenda. So, how will you use sponsorship to transform your gender talent pipeline?

 

Watch the full conversation with Umang below.

Thanks to our Guest Contributor:

Umang Vohra

Managing Director and Global Chief Executive Officer of Cipla

Umang regularly offers his time as an Executive Interviewer for the WeQual Awards and is a champion of WeQual and our mission.