women business leadership

The circumstances for women in the modern corporate workplace are changing. With a wide array of coaching and mentoring programs available for current and high-potential leaders, plenty of women are reaching new heights in the organizational hierarchy and leading from the C-Suite level.

However, this overabundance of mentoring programs may be contributing to a lack of accountability for current decision makers to sponsor women to break through office politics, stereotyping, and other professional barriers.

At East Tenth Group, we believe that both mentoring and sponsorship are necessary to cultivate women leaders throughout an organization. When used in conjunction, sponsorship and mentoring can advocate for professional opportunities, and in turn, create a diverse global female leadership network.

Mentoring Has a Place in the Professional World

In her post “Mentoring Matters: How More Women Can Get the Right People in Their Corner,” Maggie Warrell refers to the Harvard Business Review when stating that once individuals make it to the C-Suite leadership level, soft leadership skills are much more important than technical skill.

For obvious reasons, the soft skills of leaders, such as recognizing opportunity, delegating tasks effectively, and providing effective feedback are necessary for leadership success. However, cultivating and nurturing these soft skills may not always be attained solely through experience or self-taught learning.

Instead, mentorship and executive coaching allows women to develop professional savviness and navigate the professional world with confidence, when paired with an advocate who’s in their corner. But with so many mentorship opportunities and individuals who solely provide advice to professional women, what’s the next step in developing a global female leadership network that empowers women to lead organizational change from the inside out?

Over-Mentored, Under-Sponsored

American Progress does a phenomenal job of laying out the women’s leadership gap in the United States. Currently, women hold around 52% of professional-level jobs. However, women make up only 25% of executive/senior-level managers, 20% hold a seat on their boards, and only 6% are CEOs.

When we look at the current state of leadership regarding gender equality, there is still a wide gap between male and females in high-level leadership roles. This goes to show that although organizations are becoming more diverse and offering more internal mentorship opportunities, there is still a lack of sponsorship for women from their male colleagues.

According to a study completed by Egon Zehnder, only 54% of women are able to access senior-level leaders who can provide informal sponsorship and mentors. Of course, this gap isn’t necessarily because of a lack of attention from male colleagues and C-Suite leaders. Many best-in-class leaders realize that investing time to coach and mentor women colleagues and managers provides immense benefits to their organization and creates new opportunities.

Issues occur when male colleagues overlook the importance of capital and investment in these professional relationships. Mentoring provides value to both the mentor and mentee, gaining actionable knowledge and the opportunity to look at challenges from a different perspective. However, there is only so much that mentors can provide when they’re not directly involved in your professional success.

Sponsoring Women for Career Success

Although mentorship from both male and female colleagues plays a huge role in creating best-in-class women leaders, it’s only a piece of the puzzle. For true organizational gender diversity at the C-Suite level, mentorship must be paired with professional sponsorship.

A sponsor in the workplace recognizes the potential of an individual, understands the skills they bring to the table, and advocates for their professional success. For women, having a professional sponsor means that they have a high-level leader championing for their place at the executive table.

When it comes to the sponsorship of women in the workplace, Raina Anderson states it best: “In today’s workplace, women are over mentored and under sponsored in comparison to men.” It’s not enough to provide advice to high-potential women professionals if you want them to reach their goals and uncover new opportunities. Male leaders need to intentionally advocate for the success of women in the workplace through their authority, professional power, and actions.

Creating a Global Female Leadership Network

Most professional women have career ambitions and goals that they are intent on reaching. When drive is combined with the professional connections sponsorship provide, a woman’s career can be propelled.

I was sponsored early in my career – I was pushed, stretched, talked about to senior management and promoted, again and again. I was not only sponsored in my core functional area of HR, but when I transferred to technology. While there, I was sponsored by both male leaders and a female leaders. It was early in my career and when I look back it was what propelled and accelerated my career in ways I did not even understand at the time. I will be forever grateful to Mike, Ed, Peter, Martin and Sheree.

Since we’ve discussed the importance of empowering professional women in the modern workplace through both mentoring and sponsorship, what are the actionable steps that male colleagues can take to bring bold women leaders to the table? Perhaps you too have had or been sponsors and mentors along the way, but if not, here is a way forward.

  1. Identify a High-Potential Professional Women

Within the workplace, it’s vital that leaders create high-quality professional relationships with individuals in all tiers of the organization. Throughout a working relationship, you gain insights into the skillsets, experiences, and knowledge that a colleague carries.

Over time, you may become a confidant with whom they share professional goals, acting as a mentor to help them understand how they can attain their career goals and thrive. It’s at this point that male colleagues should start to consider how they can professionally sponsor a women to create internal change and find her place as a leader in the organization.

2. Advocate for her Success and Provide Opportunities

Knowing the skills and career ambitions of female colleagues, male leaders must advocate for their expertise and provide professional opportunities and resources that help them demonstrate their extensive industry knowledge and uncover new opportunities

These opportunities shouldn’t necessarily be carefully crafted to her exact skillset. Rather, provide one-on-one mentoring and coaching during this challenge and professional shift, pairing these coaching sessions with direct and actionable feedback. Not only does this allow her to stretch her professional capabilities, but to learn from mistakes you may have made so that she can carve her own path.

When a woman is provided with adequate opportunities to demonstrate her expertise, she is also introduced to new faces and other powerful thought leaders within the organization and her industry. Through the cultivation of a network equipped with various professionals and resources, others will see her potential and provide further opportunities that help build her leadership expertise and portfolio of experience.

3. Sponsor Women and Champion for Recognition

In the modern workplace, recognition for a job well-done is critical for employee engagement and best-in-class networking opportunities. Male colleagues need to advocate for promotions for their female colleagues, as well as raises to create an equal pay structure, developing a diverse and fair work culture.

When male colleagues provide more than just advice for female professionals in the workplace, they are doing more than just empowering the women they’re sponsoring; they’re creating a widespread global female leadership network for organizational success.

While it’s important that male CEOs and executive-level leaders continue to advocate for women-led businesses, real change begins by addressing the root causes of gender and racial inequality in the workplace and the community that surrounds them. CEOs can take action now in their workplace, their neighborhood, and at home to develop best-in-class women leaders.

At East Tenth Group, we believe in cultivating women leaders from the beginning of the recruitment process. For more information on how our services can help your organization thrive, subscribe to our newsletter for the latest high-quality insights and action items, and connect with us on Facebook, LinkedIn, and Twitter.