Here is the second in my series of blogs about what works when it comes to building a diverse organization.
We all now accept that up-and-comers from under-represented groups need extra help to succeed in their careers. But the statistics are not good. In Accenture's 2016 global survey of what drives the gender pay equity gap, one-third of Canadian women have a mentor, while almost two-thirds of men do (you can read more here). While having a mentor is only one way to get to equal, for women to be half as likely as men to have a mentor is a call to action for all leaders, male and female.
Mentoring is important, but there is limited risk involved for the mentor because it is one-on-one. Today I want to discuss another form of career help which we call “sponsorship.” I prefer to use the verbs “advocate” and “intervene,” because they are more active terms and they bring out the risk-taking that just doesn’t stand out with the term “sponsorship.” Advocating and intervening puts your own neck out there.
Real leaders advocate and intervene for up-and-comers from under-represented groups. Doing so has moved move the needle big-time on our diversity agenda.
Here is what I do. I have no process for picking those for whom I advocate and intervene. Some have found me; with others, I have found them. I then seek to understand their ambitions, their strengths, and their challenges. I then observe. I watch how leaders talk about them. I watch what they are up to. I see if they are in good roles, and if others are sponsoring them. I then stand ready to advocate or intervene when needed. This could mean I advocate or intervene to create a unique role or flexible work arrangement, to keep a good leader moving in the right direction. It could be to get them out of a situation without damaging relationships or reputation, or to get to that next promotion.
I usually don’t spend much time with those I sponsor. It might include a lunch and chats when we see each other. I am usually not mentoring. That’s a different and more time-consuming activity. My mentoring is usually limited to giving the leader some confidence that they can get what they want. It could be helping them to understand that we will be there for them if they reach a crisis. It could be building confidence that they should go for that next career milestone.
Until we make sponsorship pervasive, we will struggle to retain women (and men) in their middle career marathon years when work pressures clash with demands at home. I have found that intervening to help individuals at critical points can literally save a career. Often what it takes is to help the individual feel supported, and know that we will be there – should they get to a breaking point.
At Accenture we are working to make sponsorship commonplace. We are working on fundamentals. Our standards for workplace conduct give our people comfort to initiate sponsorship while staying on the right side of conduct best practices (more on this in an upcoming blog). Our desire to become the most truly human organization in the digital age is making it OK to be different and to have unique aspirations. It is making more people want to help others. Our new Performance Achievement system is based on individual aspirations and real-time needs and priorities. It encourages leaders to intervene and advocate for what their people need, when they need it.
These fundamentals are not enough. This year we are piloting additional ways to motivate leaders to sponsor individuals from under-represented groups. Stay tuned.
The real winners in the war for diverse talent will be companies where individual sponsorship is commonplace.