The new hashtag going around #MentorHer doesn’t cut it. Not that I don’t appreciate the sentiment that there needs to be a focus on being more inclusive in developing leaders all up and down the organization. It’s that women tend to be over-mentored and yet under-sponsored. Sponsorship – where a senior leader actively advocates for promotion or advancement on behalf of another – is much more effective for building the number of women in leadership roles.
There is significant parity in early leadership development between men and women. Unfortunately, that parity begins to break down the higher one moves up the ladder in an organization. This is not a new phenomenon; it has been this way for a generation. A 2011 Harvard Business Review article showed that sponsorship is strongly related to advancement in leadership roles yet women are significantly less likely to have a sponsor than men.
What does sponsorship look like? An example is during promotion discussions, the people in the room need to use their own political capital to champion women instead of the people that are most “like” themselves or those that senior leaders are most comfortable with – often other men. Spending political capital to advocate for a woman is quite different from #MentorHer. It’s #SponsorHerand it means that leaders put their own skin in the game to make sure that more women are given stretch roles and are promoted. When this happens, parity will rapidly build in corporate leadership because someone will be standing up for the woman that gets overlooked because of bias – whether unconscious or otherwise. If a leader isn’t sure a woman is ready for the next role, they could challenge themselves by asking 2 questions. First – am I letting my own filters see her as unready? Second – How can I get comfortable using my own political capital to stand up and recommend someone who is different from me?”
#MentorHer doesn’t cut it for another reason. Mentors give advice and, on the whole, feels quite patriarchal. It is helpful but is not the only route an ambitious person could take to be prepared to lead. An ambitious person needs to drive their own career – educate yourself, take on challenging roles, promote your own accomplishments, and find your own mentor or coach if you are not getting the coaching or mentoring you desire. Mentors and mentees do not have to be in the same organization.
Mentoring up-and-coming leaders in an organization are important. AND it should be much less rare than it is today. Part of leading well means developing the people in the organization – one of the best ways to do that is by both mentoring and coaching. By making mentoring and coaching available to all, everyone benefits, and the entire organization profits. To address unconscious bias in the workplace, systems and processes for bias-blind recruiting, development, and advancement create the environment in which inclusivity thrives – but this is a topic for another time.
Building a more inclusive leadership bench takes guts. It takes leaders intentionally coaching and mentoring everybody in their organization and it takes leaders who stand up and #SponsorHer for advancement.
#SponsorHer. It works.