Why Senior Women Executives Need a Sponsor Tree

by Mar 9, 2023

Women executives need a Sponsor Tree

Organisations shouldn’t rely on the personal discretionary effort of  senior women executives to nurture female talent. It needs to be systemic – so  try creating a Sponsor Tree to save time and energy.


44% of people in the E.U. believe the most important role of a woman is to take care of her home according to Families Europe. During the global pandemic, we saw the unequal distribution of childcare and domestic responsibilities with women assuming 29% more of the workload than men, in research conducted in 16 countries.  This does not include the mental load that typically falls on women’s shoulders “the responsibility of anticipating needs, identifying options for filling them, making decisions, and monitoring progress.”


sponsor tree


Also sometimes referred to as “worry work” or “cognitive labour,” the mental load is about not the physical tasks but rather the overseeing of those tasks. It’s being the one in charge of having the never-ending list of to-do items constantly running in your head, remembering what needs to get done and when, delegating all the tasks to respective family members, and making sure they actually get done.

Hours spent on domestic chores in Europe pre and post-COVID

  • Pre COVID: Women 15.8 hours …….Men  6.8 hours
  • During COVID: Women: 18.4 hours …… Men12.1 hours

Worth a read: Women and cognitive overload on the third shift – 3 Plus International

Office housework

As if this wasn’t enough, research shows that women bear the brunt of the emotional office labour also known as “office housework” or “invisible work,” which is work not related to their professional KPIs. This involves activities such as mentoring, coaching, social responsibility or well-being projects as plus responsibilities for office social activities. Women in managerial roles are also more likely to expend more time and energy on the team, wellness, and pastoral care which is leading to high levels of burnout.

One additional responsibility which would not be in their KPIs and yet they are encouraged to undertake and many actually want to do this is to nurture up-and-coming female talent. But with so few women at the top, the burden on this small number of senior female executives is immense. It is yet another layer of activity that contributes to overload and eventually burnout with increasing number of women executives considering leaving their organisations to become flight risks.

Organisations need to take note.


Systemic Transformation – Sponsor Tree

At a time when the old trope of women are “over-mentored and under-sponsored” continues to circulate on social media, we have to find some practical low-energy, and time-effective solutions. CHROs and D,E and I leaders must stop asking already over-burdened senior women to take on even more discretionary work. They have to make sponsorship of under represented talent part of their systemic HR transformation programmes.  It doesn’t help that HR leaders are also burnt out. 

One method is the old-school pyramid selling model, of a Sponsor Tree, where each female executive takes on the responsibility for sponsoring only two protogées.

This works on the basis that there are more women in junior roles and so the numbers grow as we move down the hierarchy. See the graphic below:


This means that by only sponsoring two women each, for four levels, the structure has the possibility to reach 30 Protogées in a systemic and organised way.

This idea checks all the boxes, nurturing female talent, addressing gender balance as well as being energy saving (the personal kind.) It’s a win/win. So while your male colleagues are hitting the golf course  – work smart and still get more women at the table.

This work should be systemic, not the personal discretionary effort of already overloaded senior women. No wonder they think about leaving.

Download our eBook: Best Practices To Build A Successful Sponsorship Programme


If your organisation needs further support get in touch TODAY


Dorothy Dalton Administrator
Dorothy Dalton is CEO of 3Plus International. A specialist in diversity and bias conscious executive search, she supports organizations to achieve business success via gender balance, diversity and inclusion. She is CIPD qualified, and a certified coach and trainer including digital learning.
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