Having a manager sponsor an employee can lead to promotions, higher wages and career advancement, however for Black employees, it’s hard to find a sponsor, even Black ones.
The Harvard Business Review (HBR) reports both finding and being a sponsor can lead an employee from middle management to the top of any company. According to the book Forget a Mentor, Find a Sponsor: The New Way to Fast-Track Your Career, male managers who win sponsorships within an organization are 23 percent more likely to be promoted than peers who don’t have a sponsor. Women are 19 percent more likely to get promoted.
Black employees who are sponsored by a manager are not only more likely to progress in their careers, but are less likely to leave the company they’re with. Additionally recent research shows employee sponsorships are by far the most effective method to retain and advance Black talent.
However, Black executives are few and far between and because they are under heavy scrutiny, are far less likely to sponsor someone. A Black executive at Cisco told HBR “I’m comfortable with mentoring, but I don’t have either the ammunition or the armor to get in deep and proactively sponsor.”
This example is just one of the many reasons only 5 percent of Black employees have a sponsor. Black executives aren’t willing to risk their careers to sponsor someone and Black employees don’t actively look for a sponsor because of the weight they have to carry if someone sponsors them.
Jameela, who’s name was changed to hide her identity, shared an experience of a time when she didn’t sponsor another Black woman because of the potential effect it had on her own career.
“I was just a year into an executive position at a top-tier luxury goods company and beginning to hit my stride when a young Black woman asked me to sponsor her,” Jameela told HBR. “It’s hard for me to admit, but I balked. I know and like the woman who approached me. She’s a hard worker and a high performer. But while valued by the company she is not a shoo-in for promotion.”
Jameela added if she did sponsor the woman and it didn’t work, it would reflect negatively on her career and if she sponsored the woman and she succeeded, it might look like favoritism.
Those initiatives include positioning the retention and progression of Black talent as a strategic imperative, pushing senior executives and CEOs to sponsor someone at their company and providing customized executive coaching for both employees and protégés.