Much of the research on women and work published since the Davies report has focused on what women must improve upon in order to progress their careers. The key areas identified are:
- Self Promotion
- Career planning
- Recovering from maternity leave
Asking women to work in ways designed for men doesn’t work
In response, there have been numerous `women`s initiatives’ implemented by companies to improve retention levels of key women. However many of these initiatives are not working, mainly because the emphasis is often on what women should be doing better. The focus on `doing better` aims to persuade women into ways of working that were designed for and by men.
In fact women work differently to men and recent evidence proves that this diversity is good for the bottom line. What is needed is more understanding of these differences, more understanding between those above and those below, between women that want to stay and those that want them to stay.
A recent report from Reed Smith* analysing the effectiveness of various `women`s initiatives’ finds that sponsorship programmes are the most effective way of enabling women to more senior roles. Sponsorship is a structure designed to build connection and understanding. Different from mentoring the responsibility is on the sponsor to enable the progress of the sponsee . By seeking out promotion opportunities and networking on behalf of the sponsee, this system works for women in place of the ` old boys network’.
Women are traditionally over mentored and under sponsored. With an emphasis on sponsorship, women can be progressed rather than asked to change. However sponsorship is also one of the least likely of these `women`s initiatives’ to be in place with only 23% of the companies surveyed having a sponsorship programme compared with 53% that have a women`s network.
So what can you do if your company does not have a sponsorship programme?
Of course you don’t need to wait till your company sets up a sponsorship programme. You can find a sponsor for yourself. Just target one or two people that you could learn from. For instance, choose someone who is in a position that you would like to be in.
Be clear about what you want from your sponsor, do you need a sounding board or some introductions? Ask for their help. The sponsors that we work with at Beacon Women speak of the privilege of being able to help others; experienced people have a desire to pass on wisdom. Being a sponsor can provide some much sought after ‘meaning’ through work.
Why aren`t more companies using sponsorship as a way to improve retention of women?
The answer is that a sponsorship relationship has to be managed carefully in order to work well. Many sponsor relationships break down, usually because the sponsor and sponsee have not been prepared for their roles and are not properly supported during the process.
Beacon Women works with potential sponsors and sponsees ensuring that both parties benefit and that measurable outcomes are achieved.
Authors: Joanna Barker and Tara Zutshi are the Co-Founders of Beacon Women. Both have worked at senior executive level in Media and FMCG. They founded Beacon Women to help grow the female talent pipeline in the UK’s biggest organisations.
Beacon Women is running a workshop in July for HR professionals and managers who are interested in launching an internal sponsorship programme. Through their MARIO system of effective sponsorship they will show you how to manage your female talent with this cost effective and empowering system. Please contact Joanna or Tara if you are interested in attending.