Sponsorship Matters – How Men Can Help

In Part I of “Sponsorship Matters,” we discussed the importance of sponsorship in building balanced, integrated leadership teams that leverage the strengths of both men and women. Specifically, I addressed what women need to do to gain more sponsorship. However, we need to realize that we aren’t going to make sustainable progress if we only rely on women to change the status quo. So this month, we will look at the role men play in sponsoring women leaders.

Interestingly, men typically are not seen as playing a significant role in advancing women into leadership – that job has been left to the HR or OD department. And because men have often been pushed to the sidelines, they have perhaps become apathetic about supporting women. Yet men are in the best position to sponsor and mentor women because many have spent a significant amount of time in the leadership ranks and hold the most knowledge and experience.

Several years ago, SHAMBAUGH was hired to help an organization address a need to further develop and advance women in the leadership pipeline. When I pointed out that their past efforts had only focused on women helping women and that it was important to bring men into the effort, their reaction wasn’t why should men help, but how! The men were more than willing to become engaged in women’s success, but they had never been asked and had no idea what they could do differently. I believe this is true of most men – they are happy to help but aren’t certain of what to do. Here, then, are five steps men can take to proactively help qualified women advance:

  • Be intentional about sponsoring women. Make it a personal goal to help at least one very talented woman in your company to be even more successful or to gain the visibility and credibility she deserves. Find ways to seek out hi-performing women throughout your organization who can work on projects with you, and then use this work association as an opportunity to get to know them better. Talk about the kind of work they would ultimately like to be doing as well as their career advancement aspirations.
  • Ask how you can help. If you think certain women leaders have potential, ask how you specifically can help them. I know a male executive who has coached several women into the VP and SVP ranks. He told me he feels comfortable asking, “How can I help you to be successful? How can we work together so we are both successful? What can you gain from me and what can I learn from you?”
  • Bring more women into the fold. If you are in a position to select individuals for a senior leadership team, consider having more than just one woman on it. When there are at least two women on the team, they garner more support and have a greater impact.
  • Use an appreciative approach. The Appreciative Leadership approach involves finding and focusing on what is already working and then applying those same elements in another area or with a different problem. With respect to sponsorship, this approach recognizes an individual’s strengths and builds on those strengths to help them be more successful in different areas and to ultimately advance in their career. It works with both men and women, but is especially powerful in working with women.
  • Give women constructive feedback. Studies show that a majority of men withhold negative feedback from women because they fear they may inadvertently hurt their feelings or that they will be perceived as harassing them. Yet women need this kind of feedback just as much as men do. When speaking with women, it’s important to not only provide honest feedback, supportive guidance, and helpful tips, but also to not sugarcoat the key message. If you give feedback professionally and with the right intention, you’ll be fine.

It’s time for men to become co-creators of Integrated Leadership within teams and across the enterprise by actively participating in the process of advancing more women to the senior leadership ranks. If you’re a man, are you ready to do your part?

  • Do you believe in the business case for more women in leadership? Do you value the idea of having broader spectrum of human intelligence?
  • Do you see yourself as part of the solution for advancing women?
  • Are you proactively reaching out to women to sponsor and mentor them?
  • What experience and advice can you share that women would benefit from?

Stay tuned for next month’s blog where I will consider what organizations can do to ensure capable female leaders are getting the sponsorship they need to move up the leadership ladder.

Visit www.shambaughleadership.com to learn more about SHAMBAUGH’s leadership and organizational development, employee engagement, and coaching services.

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Rebecca Shambaugh

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