Who You Know Matters as Much as What You Know—Why Women’s Sponsorship Still Matters

Do you expect that if you work hard to prove your value and differentiate yourself as a model employee that you’ll be automatically considered for career advancement? Research has shown that over three-quarters of women (77 percent) believe that long hours, hard work, and education lead to promotion rather than relationships and key connections.

This belief is simply false—and men know it. As I reported in my recent book Make Room for Her, Catalyst’s research has shown that 83 percent of men believe that who you know matters as much or more than your job skills and level of competence when it comes to corporate advancement. Men focus more energy than most women on building and intentionally leveraging a meaningful network to help them rise in their career. Women would be wise to follow their lead, since studies have shown that women are overmentored yet undersponsored.

I’ve emphasized previously how important sponsorship is—particularly noting what organizations can do and how men can help sponsor women. SHAMBAUGH works with a number of organizations in creating a strategy and framework that not only engages the sponsor and sponsee but also integrates other key areas such as the company culture, talent development/ HR systems and other key business drivers to ensure lasting success. Women also have a key role to play when it comes to preparing and leveraging their sponsorship relationship. Here are four steps that women can take to move off of the Sticky Floors and advance their career by actively seeking opportunities for sponsorship:

  • Invest in relational capital. It is crucial to cultivate and build relationships with key decision makers who can take an active role in helping you to advance. You need to move beyond mentoring relationships (which rely on advising and role modeling) and seek a broad network of people who can help you actually gain support and cooperation for your specific goals and objectives related to advancement.
  • Target decision makers. To help distinguish the difference between mentors and sponsors, you should aim to build relationships with key decision makers who can help you get promoted, not just with colleagues who can help you do your current job well. This usually means thinking both broader and bigger. Get out of your comfort zone and intentionally cultivate relationships with senior-level leaders specifically for the purpose of career advancement.
  • Make your network multidimensional. In SHAMBAUGH’s Women in Leadership Learning Program (WILL), we discuss the benefits and importance of including senior-level men in your network. Think of your network as a web of connections that leads to a broader and richer set of connections with each strand in the web. Start by mapping out your existing network web—are your relationships narrow in nature, linked only within your current team or functional area? Are they primarily with people you have known for a long time and with whom you already have deep trusted relationships? If so, it’s time to get more strategic about expanding your contacts to include a more multidimensional network—and that includes considering which senior-level men might be potential sponsors for you, as well as senior-level women.
  • Put yourself out there. Identifying potential sponsors is important, but you can’t stop there—you must next figure out how to engage them. How can you get on the radar screen of influential decision makers and start to build a relationship with them? Think about who you might ask for an introduction, what events the person might speak at, and what committees he or she serves on. The bottom line is that you need to figure out where and how you can gain access to those who might be in a position to truly help advance your career.

These steps are described in more detail in my book Make Room for Her. You can additionally learn more about SHAMBAUGH’s Integrated Model for Sponsorship on our website.

To learn more about how SHAMBAUGH can help you develop and implement a successful sponsorship initiative within your organization or to learn about SHAMBAUGH’s targeted women’s leadership development programs, executive coaching, and other core services, visit www.shambaughleadership.com.

Looking for Rebecca Shambaugh to keynote on Leadership Best Practices for the 21st Century? Visit www.rebeccashambaugh.com.

Rebecca Shambaugh is author of the best-selling books “It’s Not a Glass Ceiling, It’s a Sticky Floor,”Make Room for Her: Why Companies Need an Integrated Leadership Model to Achieve Extraordinary Results,” and "Leadership Secrets of Hillary Clinton."


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