The Value of Sponsorship as a Tool in your Toolkit!

As corporate diversity and inclusion programs evolve, questions continue to arise around how we get the best people in the right jobs. Employees understand that they must drive their own career goals yet continue to be challenged with charting their path to the C-suite. What has become increasingly evident is that the work alone will not get you there and there is a fine balance of performance management and relationship management that is critical to advancement. While key relationships are often attributable to the role of a mentor, there is clear data that mentorship is not enough and sponsorship is key. We recognize the benefits of mentors. Mentors can provide value to all aspects of our lives; professional, emotional, spiritual etc. We seek mentors within and outside of the workplace, with diverse backgrounds and perspective. Mentors are great sounding boards, empathetic listeners and career advisors. Mentors play an important role in our networks by providing perspective andhelping us develop. However, as we matriculate in our career and seek the most senior leadership positions, having an executive actively and continually promoting your brand, is where mentoring leaves off and sponsorship begins. A sponsormust be in a position of leadership in your organization to influence how you are viewed and considered for new opportunities. A sponsor doesn't need to know everything about you. What they do need to know is your performance, readiness and potential to take on the next big role. This requires trust from the sponsor and loyalty from you. Neither happens overnight but the resulting relationship can ensure that the sponsor exposes you to their network, focuses on your strengths and positions you for future advancement in the organization. While there are dimensions of great mentoring in sponsorship, the key is access and opportunity. The level of a sponsor ensures they are at the table when key roles are being discussed. They are in a position to suggest and debate the best candidates for new roles and their network allows them to reach out to peers about talent and potential opportunities. You may not always be aware of the work your sponsor is doing on your behalf but having one ensures a powerful tool in your toolbox that will provide access to senior management and opportunities to be considered for the most critical roles in the organization. Sponsors also benefit by being exposed to individuals with diverse perspectives who are outside of their network. Seeking a sponsor is different from seeking a mentor. Mentors can often develop from successful work relationships, previous work experience and developmental needs. Sponsorship is about your career aspirations and path to advancement for senior level opportunities: Which sponsor can help you achieve those objectives? Sponsorship also isn't a one-way partnership: What will you deliver in return? Just accomplishing your goals is only one factor. High performance of course is a given and gets you in the door but a sponsor is staking their reputation on your brand so performance alone is not enough. There must also be a willingness to go outside of your comfort zone to take on different roles and stretch opportunities. A sponsor will focus on your strengths and push you to take risks in your career so as someone being sponsored, you must commit to receiving feedback and acting on it. Sponsorship initiatives can be informally encouraged or a formal part of your company's executive development strategy. Either way, seeking out a sponsor to advocate for you is an effective and sustainable approach to strengthening your brand, broadening your network and positioning you for that C-suite role!

Victoria Martin
Sr. Diversity Director, AIG

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