man and woman coworkers looking at tablet in office, discussing sponsorship programs

What are Workplace Sponsorship Programs?

Workplace sponsorship programs match emerging talent with leaders and influential employees who can help them move ahead in their careers. In today’s world, these programs are especially helpful in boosting advancement for people who have typically been unrepresented, including women and people of color.

two women in a sponsorship program session

What does a sponsor do?

Sponsors use their experience, clout and connections to actively help their protégés land valuable opportunities and make the most of them. While sponsors give guidance and help protégés grow their skills, they go beyond advice to actively advocating on their behalf. This can take the form of connecting them with the right people, recommending them for high-profile projects, putting them forward for promotion and more.

How do workplace sponsorship programs benefit companies?

Companies utilize employee sponsorship to bolster the leadership pipeline, level the playing field and cultivate valuable talent that might otherwise go undiscovered. Advocating for high-potential individuals contributes to the success of the organization in terms of stronger leadership, better innovation and greater productivity. This investment in opportunities for employees also fosters employee goodwill, higher retention and a positive employer brand that make the organization more attractive to potential candidates.

How do workplace sponsorship programs benefit employees?

Sponsorship programs offer up-and-coming talent the coaching and path to advancement they need to get ahead. Entry-level workers who were sponsored were 167 percent more likely to have received a stretch assignment, according to author and economist Sylvia Ann Hewlett. Sponsorship is also financially valuable; research from PayScale shows sponsored employees earned 11.6 percent more than their coworkers.

two men enter a workplace building lobby

How do workplace sponsorship programs benefit DEI?

An employee sponsorship program can be a powerful part of a company’s diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) efforts, which aim to break down the barriers that have historically prevented underrepresented employees from reaching their highest potential in the workplace.

While improving representation through more inclusive recruiting is an important step in DEI, it’s also crucial to offer the resources that employees need to thrive and advance. Underrepresented employees often have not received as much attention from the upper ranks as their peers. Women are 24 percent less likely than men to get advice from senior leaders, and 62 percent of women of color feel that they are disadvantaged by not having an influential mentor, according to Lean In.

Employee sponsorship programs set underrepresented employees up for success through personalized, action-oriented guidance from powerful people within the organization. It also creates a quality pipeline of diverse candidates for future leadership, something that also can drive higher profits.

middle aged woman sitting in chair smiling

5 Elements of Sponsorship Programs

The most successful workplace sponsorship programs in the workplace share certain best practices that set them up for success.

Create consistency

Structured programs should be designed to ensure transparency, fairness, a consistent experience for sponsors and proteges and results that align with organizational goals

Identify candidates

Good programs will have mechanisms in place to identify high-potential employees who would benefit from sponsorship and senior leaders who would make great sponsors.

Match deliberately

Once these candidates are identified, matching them needs to be a deliberate process. Sponsorship program leaders should understand the goals and preferences of each counterpart in order to create matches that will have maximum impact.

Prepare participants

It’s also important that sponsors and protégés are properly prepared for sponsorship. Both should understand their roles and what is expected of them. Ideally, organizations will provide coaching to sponsors to improve their knowledge and skills.

Build a mentoring program

Establishing a mentorship program can be a useful springboard to sponsorship in the workplace by helping to identify good candidates, establish matching mechanisms, guide participants through the connections and develop mentoring skills and relationships among people at different levels within the company.

Sponsorship success in the workplace

Sponsorship programs in the workplace have long been a way for less experienced employees to get ahead with the help of influential people. Organizations can harness these principles in formal programs to achieve the same results in a more targeted way. Done right, workplace sponsorship programs can help maximize the potential of promising talent — ultimately contributing to a healthier and more productive organization.

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