What Men Can Do to Be Better Sponsors for Women

Advocating for women’s advancement at work is integral to the improvement of financial results and diversity in the workplace. Yet data from the Working Mother Research Institute finds that while 54% of men had a career discussion with a mentor or sponsor in the past 24 months, only 39% of women did.


Why? Research from the Center for Talent Innovation reports that a full 71% of executives have protégés whose gender and race match their own. That means that women and minorities don’t benefit from sponsorship like their male colleagues do.

Companies need to do a better job of developing men to be champions for diverse talent.

Here are eight key guidelines to share with men seeking to sponsor women:

IDENTIFY HIGH-POTENTIAL TALENT: Look for people who bring different experiences and perspectives from your own and also have the potential and ambition to make a larger contribution.

DETERMINE THE BEST ROLE: Identify high-visibility opportunities that could benefit from your protégés’ talents and experiences.

POSITION THE ROLE: Ensure that your protégés understand that the organization values and thinks highly of them. Many women appreciate this type of encouragement and may be reticent to take a challenging role without it.

PROVIDE OPPORTUNITIES FOR DEVELOPMENT AND SUPPORT: Ensure that people in your organization invest resources to give protégés the skills and experiences they need.

PAVE THE WAY: Introduce your protégés to powerful people in your organization or industry, especially if they can serve as crucial professional connections.

ENSURE PROTÉGÉS RECEIVES FEEDBACK: A 2006 McKinsey study found that women don’t receive the same direct, candid commentary on their performance as their male counterparts do. Make sure that your protégés get clear performance assessments and guidance on how to improve results.

HELP PROTÉGÉS PERSIST: Make sure that failures or naysayers don’t derail your protégés. That doesn’t mean sheltering them from adversity; it means ensuring that the organization is understanding if everything doesn’t work out the first time.

CHAMPION PROMOTIONS AND RECOGNITION: Advocate for raises, promotions and recognition to deserving protégés.


Rania H. Anderson is an executive business coach.
David G. Smith is a sociology professor at the United States Naval War College.
Copyright 2019 Harvard Business School Publishing Corp.
Distributed by The New York Times Syndicate.



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