Affinity Groups Look to ‘Sponsors’ to Help Their Members Move Up

Methinks I see a new buzzword on the horizon: “Sponsor.”

A sponsor is kind of like a mentor on steroids:

More than a mentor, this is someone in a senior position who’s willing to advocate for and facilitate career moves, make introductions to the right people, translate and teach the secret language of success, and most important, “use up chips” for their protégés. One woman describes a sponsor as someone who can “directly intercede on your behalf to create a different reality for you.”

If I was going to split hairs, I’d say that all this sounds what like mentors are supposed to do in the first place. But the fact the more pro-active “sponsor” is being broken out indicates firms are beginning to understand just advising the up-and-coming isn’t enough. You have to make sure they make real connections and get genuine opportunities to move to the next level. Sylvia Ann Hewlett and DeAnn Aguirre say it’s especially true among women (though I’d argue other minorities face similar challenges.)

Forward-thinking companies recognize that these hidden inequities prevent them from identifying and developing potential talent. Rather than leave these strategically significant relationships up to chance, smart employers are becoming matchmakers.

Who are these smart employers? Cisco, for one.

Cisco’s Inclusive Advocacy Program, launched in November 2008, pairs the company’s highest potential diverse talent – both men and women – with a VP or SVP “advocate” in a different function and different geography over a nine-month period to expand the advocates’ network of new sources of knowledge capital and the talents’ network of influential contacts. Within a year – and despite the tough economy – one participant was promoted and another earned a new geographic posting.

— Mark Feffer

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