Developing diverse talent and increasing the number of women in leadership roles is a complex task

As can be seen in the McKinsey Infographic below, Asia has a long way to go to increase the levels of female participation at senior leadership levels. Despite most countries seeing women representing close to or even over 50% of university graduates, females quickly drop out of the pipeline.

Increasing the number of women in leadership roles is a complex issue and requires multiple initiatives to address not only the development of diverse talent but also the organisation’s culture, talent processes and awareness of leaders’ roles in promoting diverse talent. One key part of any programme to develop and promote diverse talent is sponsorship. The concept of sponsorship was identified in research conducted by Herminia Ibarra of Insead and the Catalyst organisation. In their study of both male and female high potential candidates over a two-year period they noticed several trends.

Men and women in their study both received mentoring. However, despite women receiving more mentoring than the men, the rates of promotions differed: 72% of the men achieved promotions versus only 65% of the women. Looking further at the data and conducting follow-up interviews the researchers discovered that there was a difference between the type of mentoring that men and women received. Firstly, men were more frequently mentored by senior executives with 78% of men and 61% of women having mentors who were sufficiently senior to influence their mentees’ careers. They also found that some of the elements of the mentoring relationship that men were describing were distinct and are considered sponsorship behaviours.

The primary difference between sponsorship and mentoring is that a sponsor will actively advocate on behalf of their mentee. This might mean that they put them forward for promotions, provide them with opportunities to demonstrate their capability, and introduce them to influential contacts in their network. By doing so, they go beyond the psychosocial support and advice-giving of the typical mentoring relationship to ensure that their mentee is successful. Once a promotion has been achieved they stay in the picture, supporting their candidate to help them transition successfully to the new role.

Companies looking to accelerate the careers of their female and diverse talent should consider implementing a formal or informal sponsorship programme. This involves training executives to be effective sponsors and holding them accountable for the careers of the people that they are sponsoring. The sponsorship relationship is beneficial for the sponsor as well as for the mentee. The sponsor can benefit from being recognised as a leader who recognises and develops talent as well as ensuring that they have access to high potential individuals who they can rely on to deliver results.

More information on sponsership can be found on the Catalyst website here