Professional Women Deserve “Sponsorship” for Internal Promotions not “Touchy Feely Mentoring” from Seniors who Won’t go to Bat for Them

I was with a friend of mine yesterday who is a senior woman among the tall towers of Canary Wharf. In telling me what she was observing at her company – was reminded she could have written the recent Harvard Business Review report on “Why Men Still Get More Promotions than Women.” She lamented that while she had received executive coaching and informal mentoring from senior people, the mentors didn’t do what was necessary – be her vocal advocate, even though they were very encouraging to her behind closed doors. According the report, she is not the only one – and indeed the HBR study of men and women at the same large multinational found that while both genders received mentoring (and women in some cases, even more!) it was the men who were more likely to get informal “sponsorship” as part of the mentoring – their mentor publicly going to bat for them to help them take advantage of new career opportunities. Indeed, very disappointingly a woman’s chance of finding a very senior position were heightened by going to a new employer – that the rate of promotion to top positions from within organisations for women is dire. Again, this was something she unsolicitedly mentioned to me, that she was stunned silent (not a charge that could be frequently levied against her!) when her Head of HR told her the “big plan” for increasingly female leadership at the company was to poach women from other org’s – particularly dismal when the company already has a wave of internal female talent that’s ripe for the advancement.

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  • Esther Haines

    Canary Wharf is not the only place where the idea of poaching women from other organizations has been raised. The justification is that women fail to progress because they lack role models so by appointing women to senior positions from outside you provide the women currently in your organization with role models and then everything will be fine. It is also a rational strategy if you are focussed on reducing your gender pay gap.

  • Suzanne Doyle-Morris

    Poaching is doing things the wrong way around because it is demoralising to the woman in the middle levels who see that you have to leave your organisation to be taken seriously, and that the company is not committed to growing talent from within.

  • Esther Haines

    Suzanne, your comment is spot on.