Sponsorship is the key to advancing women of color in the workplace

Women of color face unique challenges, with their careers often hinging on those who are lacking in diversity training. The feedback often doesn’t feel genuine because it is not accompanied by advice, resources, or training to close performance gaps. Instead, it is used as a stall tactic or a deflection, enveloped by institutionalized racism or unconscious bias.

Why is sponsorship the correct approach?

The one element that’s missing to amplify the careers of women of color is true advocacy – sponsors who are willing to promote them, based on their potential and not simply their performances. Sponsorship is an important mechanism to promote women of color, as it allows leaders to use their social capital for the good of the individual being sponsored as well as the organization. These are the important questions surrounding issues of sponsorship:

  • What happens when political power and its use are shrouded in fear?
  • How can women of color understand who holds social and political power within their organizations and how power is exchanged?
  • What should leaders do to correct power inequalities?
  • How does understanding power dynamics impact the ability of women of color to be sponsored in their career?

I have designed Sponsorship Manifesto designed to make inclusive sponsorship easier to understand for executives and create a common foundation for how a sponsor should advocate for their protégés. The Manifesto contains four core principles:

  • Believing in potential
  • Being generous
  • Taking risks
  • Sponsoring diverse talent

These principles ground leaders on how they should model the way for inclusive sponsorship and connect to their commitment of paying it forward and investing in others. By agreeing to use this Sponsorship Manifesto, or crafting their own to guide their behavior, leaders will make sponsorship the true mechanism to propel women of color into senior leadership.

Why is diversity important in the workplace?

Diversity must be ingrained within an organization. Without these behaviors, strategy, and growth, business results will continue to suffer, and the organization will lose competitive advantage and become obsolete. Leaders must believe that they have a role in being part of the solution. When they see opportunities to extend their network to a rising Black or Brown female, so that she may expand or develop her own network, they don’t hesitate.

They fill the leadership pipeline and ensure that diverse talent in the pipeline flows upward to senior leadership. Some leaders feel paralyzed to take actions of sponsorship because it can seem like a daunting task, especially if they equate sponsorship with being able to promote protégés to the next level. There are so many different ways to sponsor women outside of being able to get them promoted that could have influential impact on their trajectory.

What actions should sponsors take in the workplace?

INCLUSIVE SPONSORSHIP describes a few actions that sponsors should take based on their level of comfort and their perceived influence. The spectrum goes along with the evolution of a sponsorship kinship and is categorized by entry-, mid-, and senior-level activities.

Entry-level activities

  • Invite protégés to executive meetings
  • Introduce protégés to high-profile executives

Mid-level activities

  • Invite protégés into a private networking circle
  • Nominate protégés for speaking opportunities
  • Nominate protégés for industry awards and recognition

Senior-level activities

  • Nominate protégé for a board seat
  • Present her business case for promotion
  • Appoint her to senior-level committees

While there is a certain level of risk inherent in sponsorship, practicing these activities as part of the leadership routine will help grow comfort with engaging in sponsorship naturally. All of the activities in the spectrum of sponsorship will have a positive impact for protégés.

INCLUSIVE SPONSORSHIP shows managers how to navigate away from viewing sponsorship activities as risk-taking endeavors, and instead as a positive behavior that will enable the firm to succeed and allow women of color to travel an easier path to corporate success.  

Jhaymee Tynan is an award-winning strategist, culture leader, and wellness champion. She is the author of INCLUSIVE SPONSORSHIP. She is also a board-certified healthcare strategy executive and thought leader known for her values of empathy and kindness in the workplace. Tynan is the Creator and Founder of 100×2030.