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Executives have been identifying and elevating future leaders for years, however organic advocacy hasn’t typically benefited all groups equally. Deliberate sponsorship programmes increase visibility for underrepresented talent.

Employer recommendations

➖Actively seek out emerging leaders from underrepresented groups for sponsorship and advocacy.

➖Work with Employee Resource Groups (ERGs) to create structured opportunities for senior leaders to meet emerging leaders from groups that are underrepresented.

Suggested steps to create a formal sponsorship programme for underrepresented talent include:

➖Define goals and objectives: build a clear business case outlining why you want to establish a sponsorship programme for underrepresented talent. Incorporate the organisation's D&I goals and strategy into the business case so leaders understand the intention behind sponsoring specific talent segments. Be clear why the organisation is running the programme, what it is and what the organisation wants to achieve, not only to the individuals on the programme but the wider organisation so everyone understands the programme's purpose. Showcase how it sits next to broader talent programmes open to all talent. This will help people who are not invited to participate to see that, although they are not on these programmes, they have other opportunities open to them.

➖Align on a definition of sponsorship as well as the roles and responsibilities of sponsors and sponsored employees.

➖Identify the underrepresented groups who will become sponsored. Define who qualifies as "underrepresented talent" within your organisation.  

➖Identify relevant key metrics (upfront) that align with sponsorship programme objectives. For example, the career advancement rate among sponsored employees within twelve months of participating in the programme; or the percentage of sponsored employees in leadership positions within twelve months of participating in the programme etc. Avoid measuring programme participation and satisfaction as a measure of success.

Appoint an executive sponsor for the programme to help gain broader leadership commitment.

 ➖Develop clear criteria for selecting both sponsors and sponsored employees. Sponsors should have a track record of leadership and be committed to D&I, while sponsees should show potential for growth and advancement.

➖'Don’t require sponsors and sponsees to come from the same demographic group. Soliciting members of underrepresented groups to act as sponsors is important because it introduces perspective and offers diverse role models. But, requiring matching can at times be difficult for sponsors who are already pioneers in their field and fill many roles, and it can often feel forced. Seek out inclusive sponsors from inside and outside your company to avoid burdening people. Your sponsors shouldn’t be uniformly male and white simply because that’s who is convenient', Project Include.

➖Define expectations for sponsors and sponsored employees, including accountabilities, programme outcomes, timelines, frequency of meetings, goals for the relationship, and the duration of the sponsorship. Invest in orientation prior to participation — for both sponsored participants and sponsors — to ensure both have the correct expectations.

🔧Refer to UpSkill Digital's 'Guide To Being An Effective Sponsor' for information about what sponsorship is, and what it is not, tips for how to keep your sponsor-sponsee relationship on track, how to navigate the imbalances in privilege and access present in this type of relationship, as well as suggestions for how to ensure your sponsorship programme is inclusive and culturally conscious.
🔧There are several related templates (paid subscription required) in Gartner's 'Ignition Guide to Launching a DEI Sponsorship Program'.
The image below is from the article 5 Things Allies Can Do to Sponsor Coworkers from Underrepresented Groups, by Karen Catlin, Founder and Author of Better Allies.

5 Things allies can do to sponsor coworkers from underrepresented groups

Further information