Forum Institutional

What is 'sponsorship' and how can it benefit women in the workplace?

Sponsorship can offer a strong path to promotion for women.

Sponsorship can offer a strong path to promotion for women. Image: Unsplash/Brooke Cagle

Emma Charlton
Senior Writer, Forum Agenda
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Education, Gender and Work

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  • Sponsorship is advocacy focused on career advancement.
  • Sponsoring someone includes advocating for, protecting and fighting for their career advancement, according to Harvard Business Review. Minority groups, including women, are commonly less represented by sponsors.
  • The World Economic Forum’s Growth Summit is taking place 2-3 May 2023 in Geneva, Switzerland, and will focus how we can ensure jobs and opportunity for all.

Do you want to get ahead in your workplace? If so, you could seek a sponsor – someone senior to you who focuses on your advancement.

Sponsoring someone includes advocating for, protecting and fighting for their career advancement, according to Harvard Business Review. It also says that a lack of sponsorship is preventing women from climbing the career ladder – and this lack of sponsorship is affecting women more than men.

Sponsorship can offer a solid path to promotion, but minority groups – including women – tend to be less represented by sponsors. That matters because there is a strong business case for diversity, with more diverse companies performing better, according to McKinsey.

Sponsorship can offer a solid path to promotion, but minority groups – including women – tend to be less represented by sponsors.
Sponsorship can offer a solid path to promotion, but minority groups – including women – tend to be less represented by sponsors. Image: McKinsey

Facilitating and promoting better work for all has long been a theme for the World Economic Forum. The Forum’s 2023 Growth Summit has a theme of “jobs and opportunity for all”. It takes place on 2-3 May 2023 in Geneva, Switzerland. It will bring together leaders from across the world to debate the future of work, advance opportunities and find solutions for current challenges.

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Mentoring or sponsoring?

While a mentor may be a sponsor, sponsors go beyond the traditional social, emotional and personal growth development provided by many mentorships. Broadly, sponsorship is more focused on advancement.

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“While a mentor is someone who has the knowledge and will share it with you, a sponsor is a person who has power and will use it for you,” Harvard Business Review says. “When it comes to this important distinction, the evidence is also clear: women tend to be over-mentored and under-sponsored.”

A new way of thinking about sponsorship.
Sponsorship is more than just mentoring. Image: Harvard Business Review

Sharing knowledge about how to get ahead, making introductions to influential people, talking people up and better managing the distribution of high-visibility projects are all ways that can help people get ahead, the Harvard Business Review says.

Sponsorship can encourage women to speak up and spell out their ambitions, particularly in male-dominated fields like tech, according to McKinsey.

Women more affected than men

Structural barriers are one of the main drivers of gender gaps in the workforce, according to the World Economic Forum’s Global Gender Gap Report. While it is positive that more women than ever are moving into paid work and leadership positions, the report says, societal expectations, employer policies and the availability of childcare continue to limit many women, who tend to be primary caregivers.

“Geopolitical conflict and climate change both impact women disproportionately,” the report says. “In addition, the projected deepening of the current cost-of-living crisis is also likely to impact women more severely than men, as women continue to earn and accumulate wealth at lower levels.”

Against this tough economic backdrop, sponsorship and promoting the advancement of women seems as important as ever.

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