How to become a better sponsor of women

   7 tips on how to be a better sponsor of women

We frequently see posts telling us how to find a sponsor, but no tips on how to become a better sponsor of women

Sponsorship is recognized as an important device within any business. It serves to develop and accelerate high performers to more senior functions within a company. The process can be via a formal partnership pairing programme, or an informal affiliation that develops organically over time. How to become or be a better sponsor of women is a question that is rarely answered, or even asked. It’s assumed that everyone knows what’s involved and it’s something that happens seamlessly and invisibly. But when women become sponsors of women do they improve in the same way that men seem to slide effortlessly into that role when they advocate for their protégées?

With such a small number of women in senior jobs, it is incumbent on them to sponsor junior women coming through the ranks. They are the few who can assume this vital function, but it’s unclear how often this happens. Frequently when women leave senior jobs they are replaced by men. We saw this with Indra Nooyi and Marissa Meyers. If they are asked for a network referral they may not always put forward the name of a female candidate.

better sponsor of women

Here are 7 tips to become a better sponsor of women in your organization:

#1 Understand your female talent pipeline

Make it your business to know and understand the employee experience of the women in your organization. Be clear about the way female talent is identified and attracted to your business. Know what happens to them once they are hired. It’s important that you are aware of the specific churn and pain points in your organisation and position yourself ahead of that curve to pick the women up before they leave. A woman’s experience of the workplace can be very different from their male colleagues. Very often the support women need is more diffused and related to non professional factors. Many senior women can be out of touch with what is going on for women coming through the ranks and its important that the senior role models have their fingers on the pulse.

Learn how men and women look for jobs differently and how that impacts the talent pipeline. Download our new eBook. 

#2 Don’t confuse sponsoring and mentoring

Sponsoring and mentoring are often confused. Mentoring is sharing your experience with a mentee. Sponsoring involves pro-actively advocating, advancing and positioning the career advancement of your protégées. This means you will need excellent insights into the transferable skills, strengths and development needs of your protégée.

#3 Actively commit 

If you sponsor someone, you need to make that belief in their ability clear to them. They need to take on board their own obligations and how they will be held accountable for specific deliverables. This is not a commitment that should be made idly and without considerable thought. You role will be as the door-opener to career advancement opportunities. They have the responsibility to be accountable. Your reputation is on the line as the person who has leveraged influence to make things happen for them.

#4 Transparent communication

In any relationship communication is key. You will be on hand with insights for navigating the very often unwritten coded messages which women face in the workplace. Be proactive and ask for regular and ongoing input to benchmark your protégée’s progress. Leave little to chance in case they feel too intimidated to ask for help. You can also learn from your protégée. She can keep you updated about what is going on at probably a lower and more operational level. This will help you keep your fingers on the pulse of your business.

#5 Challenge your protégée.

For her to get maximum exposure you will need to challenge your protégée to stretch herself. This inevitably involves some calculated risks for you as the sponsor. Encourage them to accept any stretch assignments or more challenging roles and projects, and support them to acquire the necessary skills to achieve those goals. It is not uncommon to encounter push-back if the protégée is nudged out of her comfort zone.  Sometimes it might be necessary to seek  a coach for her as well.

#6 Set realistic goals

You may want to achieve gender balance in your own career and to support the junior women, but it’s not possible to sponsor them all or feasible to do it single-handedly. First of all, this spreads your time too thinly. But it also means that individual protégées could end up competing against each other and their interests may conflict. It is much better to focus your attention on the top talent and be prepared to account for your choices. You may also want to address some diversity issues within your organisation and give a woman from a minority demographic who may experience additional challenges, that extra support.

#7 Encourage female talent ambassadors 

The value of having a sponsor is widely recognized as being central to both career success and the pace at which a protégée advances through an organisation’s “system.” By taking the lead and stepping up as a proactive sponsor, your colleagues can see first hand from your work as a role model, how to be a better sponsor of women.

When organizations are able to showcase not just the effectiveness of a system of sponsorship for female employees, but also offer opportunities for senior leaders to be better sponsors of women, true systemic change can start to occur.

Is your company doing its best to access the female talent pipelines? Use our services to improve your Executive Search and Diversity Recruitment.

3Plus, 3Plus online e-Gazine for professional women, Diversity and Inclusion, Female Talent Pipeline, Gender Balance
Web | Email | Twitter | Google+ | LinkedIn
Dorothy Dalton is CEO of 3Plus International. A specialist in diversity and bias conscious executive search, she joins the dots between organisations, individuals, opportunity and success.

Leave a Reply

Found that interesting? Learn more about our services
Individual services
Make your dreams a reality with a professional evaluation of your career to date.
more info
Corporate services
The evidence is in. More women in your company can deliver 35% greater financial returns. (Catalyst)
more info
Upcoming events
Currently we don't have upcoming events
Download and listen free podcasts
Why all women need a strong LinkedIn profile
Free Download

Data on women on LinkedIn has always been hard to get and analyse, but some new information sheds light on how women use the platform differently to their male colleagues and what those differences mean. You will find out why you need a strong LinkedIn profile.

It has always been difficult to identify women on LinkedIn because it’s not possible to do a search based on gender. Any efforts to track women on LinkedIn specifically, involve complex Boolean strings involving pronouns or searching via women’s clubs, universities and networks. So any analysis has always been more anecdotal around perceptions and personal experience, rather than data based. However research from 2017  using LinkedIn member profile data for members in the United States over the past 12 months. Published on the LinkedIn blog it supports pretty much what we already know about women on LinkedIn.

LinkedIn  is the main professional data base used globally by hiring managers and recruiters, yet women continue to engage less than their male colleagues, putting themselves at a distinct professional disadvantage. Now we have some facts and figures as well as tips and tricks to persuade  you to up your game. All women have to have a strong LinkedIn profile. No ifs and buts.


How to Get Noticed by Head Hunters & Recruiters
Free Download

In this power coaching podcast, we’re going to tackle one of the questions asked multiple times a week by active job seekers and passive candidates.

How can I get noticed by head hunters and recruiters and connect with them?

In this short power coaching podcast Dorothy Dalton shares some tips and tricks to make sure that you are always on the radar of the recruitment and search specialists who can be most helpful to you. With extensive experience in executive search and corporate HR Dorothy has placed, coached and trained thousands of men and women to career success. As a career coach she has a deep understanding of the job search market and what job seekers need to do to position themselves to they are easily found.

As CEO of 3Plus she also has deep experience of the challenges women face in the workplace. Sadly because women tend not to create career strategies they can be vulnerable when it comes to dealing with change. Regular transitions become career crises. In this short session you will learn some simple tips and tricks to make sure you are on the radar of key recruitment specialists in your sector, geography or function.  It’s not rocket science.





One of the most puzzling things about working in executive search is that people and I say this reluctantly particularly women fail to plan ahead. You’ve heard me say before that only 5% of women have a career strategy. This means that they are not prepared for any emergencies until they become a crisis.


Goal setting tips to boost your career
Free Download

The happiest people are those that really love their jobs. Those that don’t, dread Sunday nights and the upcoming work week. So how do you get to a place where you look forward to a new week of doing what satisfies you? You’ll have to either learn to love your current role, or make a commitment to pursue your dream job. Use these goal setting tips to help you get to where you want to be.

Some women choose the latter, and to do so you’ll have to set career goals to get where you want to be. So make sure you have a detailed plan on how to land a job that you will tick all the boxes.

The majority of women choose to stay in their own organizations and even then you still need to have goals, not just KPis set by your manager. But even if you do see your career developing within your current business it’s still important to set goals.

Many women struggle with career planning and creating a career strategy which can lead to problems. This makes them vulnerable to and sort of challenge which can moprh into a full blown career crisis. Some simple steps to plan and prepare can help avoid this.

Take a look at these goal setting tips to help boost your career and set you on the right path.

Lewis Carroll  said

If you don’t know where you are going any road will get you there.”

Research shows that only about 5% of women create career goals and a career strategy. This can have a negative impact on your career progression. It means you are reactive not proactive and career glitches can morph into full blown crises. It puts women at a clear disadvantage to men.

Learn these simple goal setting tips to boost your career and protect and prepare you for all eventualities. If these goal setting tips make you think that you could use some further help,  contact us immediately.


When Does Female Rivalry Turn into Sabotage
Free Download

There’s a lot of stuff written on social media about  female rivalry and competition between women. Some of it makes sense and some of it is confusing. Organizations are pyramids with fewer roles at the top than at the bottom. It is inevitable that at some level, as more and more women are in the talent pipeline, at some point they will be in competition with other women.

Many would say that women aren’t competitive. I would suggest re-framing that. I think it’s more accurate to say they are not as competitive in the workplace as men. We have also been made to feel guilty about being competitive. We need to get over that.  Here are the reasons:

  1. The male nature of corporate culture makes it a disincentive to compete
  2. Women don’t want to compete because  prescribed male goals are not attractive enough for them. “Work 14 hour days, not see my partner or family … get sick.. thanks.. I’ll pass”
  3. Women don’t know how to compete in the workplace. They are new arrivals on the corporate competition scene and lack practise.
  4. Women experience gender blow back when they do compete, from both men and women
  5. Women have been raised to think that competing with other women is not empowering them. As more women enter the talent pipeline that is just nonsense.

Learn some insights from Annabel Kaye, Employment Law Expert about how it’s OK to be competitive and the danger zone when it can turn into sabotage. Understand the benefits of mutual support and how all women can profit from having strong strategic allies, role models and mentors.