Sponsorship as part of the We economy What does sponsorship mean in terms of what it brings to a sponsor and a protégé? To look at it purely from a selfish perspective, it increases the sponsor’s worth. By actively supporting someone likely to be a future leader, as Anna Benninger, senior research analyst for Catalyst, explains: [You will find] that paying it forward pays back. Developing others really increases your own visibility … essentially what you are doing is showing the company that you are not only about your own advancement, but that you are invested in the future of the organisation. What then happens makes this more altruistic than it may at first appear, because a domino effect begins, as it has been proven that people who are sponsored are more likely to sponsor others. A 2011 study from the Center for Work–Life Policy published by the Harvard Business Review found that sponsorship can result in as much as a 30 per cent increase in promotions, pay raises and stretch assignments for a protégé. Yet in spite of these clear advantages, the Catalyst study ‘The Leadership Gap’ found that many women are unaware of these benefits and lack allies among company leadership. In fact, 77 per cent of women were reported to believe that hard work and long hours, rather than connections, are responsible for advancement. The concern is, of course, that they are unaware of valuable connections that could be available to them. From a young age, men are inducted into the world of sponsorship through their involvement in sports and clubs. Some men have access to an old boys’ school alumni network, which provides encouragement and a leg up to those identified as having talent in some shape or form. And when men enter the business world, the active sponsoring continues, with mentoring very quickly progressing to ‘Why don’t you join me on the golf course this weekend?’ In the past, women quite simply have not had access to this form of shortcut through the ranks because the women haven’t been there to sponsor each other, and generally men haven’t even considered it as an option, given the tendency to sponsor people like ourselves. In its place, the focus has been mentoring. Commercial collaboration requires a change to this established norm. The uncertain future is asking us to embrace diversity to future-proof our businesses, leaders and careers. Breaking through the old boys’ network is never going to be easy, but collaboratively we can work towards a resolution. Sowing the seeds of sponsorship is a critical part of being present in the space of We and needs to become more of a focus across the corporate arena and entrepreneurial circles. Sylvia Ann Hewlet says that sponsors ...make you visible to leaders within the company — and to top people outside as well. They connect you to career opportunities and provide air cover when you encounter trouble. When it comes to opening doors, they don’t stop with one promotion. They’ll see you to the threshold of power.