Why sponsors are your proven link to success


We were thrilled to be joined by  Economist and thought leader Sylvia Ann Hewlett, author of 12 critically acclaimed books, to explain why sponsors are your proven link to success and how to find and develop a relationship with a sponsor and as a sponsor. A labour economist with more than 25 years’ experience in global talent management, her latest book ‘The Sponsor Effect’ was applauded by Sheryl Sandberg who said ‘having a sponsor can make a big difference to your career.’

We found her story, personal experience, academic rigour and extensive research a fascinating combination and some tangible points for us all to think about.

Here are our key takeaways from the talk:

  1. Sponsors vs Mentors. Sponsorship is a reciprocal alliance in which both parties give and take. Sponsorship at its core is about driving value together (vale is not purely reputational or philanthropic). Mentors are great for moral support but not necessarily for career advancement. Sponsorship is how high-level appointments are made. We all need sponsors and in time, should be sponsors!
  2. You have to give before you can get! At the earlier stages of your career, you advance in line with your skillset and just need to deliver. But as you progress up the ladder, relationship capital is what really matters. Handling relationship capital is how we move up -sponsorship is the best way to maximise that.
  3. Sponsorship has to be earned through hard graft and outperformance of your peers (not just skills-based). The protegee provides concrete value for the sponsor and can deliver something outside of the sponsors remit e.g. a valuable network. It is an investment by the sponsor. In addition, the protege must demonstrate that they’re trustworthy and loyal.
  4. At its core, sponsorship is about driving value together.
  5. Men tend to form more transactional relationships in their careers than women. Women are looking for a role model, whereas men are looking up to people with power (not necessarily someone they like), that they respect and relationships that offer them value in their careers.
  6. Women are 46% less likely to have a sponsor. Women with sponsors take more risks, and therefore climb higher and faster. It’s not worth the risk for women without sponsors if you could get fired!
  7. In an ideal scenario, you’d have 2 internal sponsors and 1 external sponsor. Think about your dream job in 3 years’ time and figure out who the people are that you need to know to get there. Impress them, build trust and seek to provide a value add they don’t have. Examine your personal currency. Make a list of your strengths and what could be additive for your team.
  8. You can’t be what you can’t see – remember the importance of diversity when finding, and being, a sponsor.

And finally…an interesting fact for you all. More women take an off-ramp in their careers due to eldercare than due to children. Fascinating!