Friday, June 10, 2011

Career Gold: A Word From Your Sponsor

Forget mentors. If you want to reach top management you'll need sponsors–powerful senior players who will stake their reputation on your behalf. While mentors offer informal advice and coaching, a good sponsor opens the doors of the promotion elevator and pushes a protégé through.

Star performers don't always find and use a sponsor well, however. Men are 46% more likely to have sponsors than women, according to a study released last December by the Center for Work-Life Policy. And some experts blame the scarcity of women and minority men in the highest corporate jobs on their insufficient sponsors.

As a result, at least nine big businesses have recently created sponsorship initiatives. They typically match promising leaders with sponsors or teach them how to earn one. These companies are already pointing to some successes, though it's still too early to tell if they'll be truly effective in moving executives up the ranks.

Not everyone is convinced formal sponsorship programs make sense. "They don't work because you're assigned to somebody," insists Stephen Miles, head of leadership consulting for recruiters Heidrick & Struggles International Inc. "Forcing these things doesn't deliver the right outcome."

Half of 20 women in an American Express & Co. pilot sponsorship program last year subsequently landed promotions or lateral moves, a spokesman says. The financial-services concern launched a formal program dubbed "Pathways to Sponsorship" in January. It involves a separate set of 21 female senior vice presidents worldwide.

At International Business Machines Corp. 45 emerging female technical leaders found executive sponsors through a program begun last summer. Five subsequently accepted posts "that will groom them for promotions,'' a spokeswoman reports.

Pricewaterhouse Coopers LLP, the U.S. arm of the global accounting giant, paired 106 female partners with senior-level "advocates" under a nationwide initiative inaugurated in July 2010. Three of those women soon will take charge of a region for the first time.

PwC intends to create a similar sponsorship push for minority men, says Robert E. Moritz, chief executive. "I have to double down my efforts to get more women and minorities in leadership roles.''
Kathryn S. Kaminsky, an audit partner at PwC, obtained a more important role last January–with help from her advocate Mark J. Casella, a managing partner. PwC matched them in late 2007 through a prior program for New York-area female partners. They got to know each other through a series of formal and informal meetings.

Mr. Casella says he didn't know Ms. Kaminsky personally, but agreed to become her advocate at the request of a trusted senior colleague who praised her abilities. "There needs to be some trusted relationships that are being leveraged" in order for a formal program to succeed, he adds
Mr. Casella says he pushed to get Ms. Kaminsky an important "stretch" assignment last year. She spent about 11 weeks seated alongside the finance chief of an asset-management business, advising her about its imminent spinout from a multinational parent.

The asset-management unit had considered switching auditors. "Through Kathryn's efforts, we were able to win this work,'' Mr. Casella recalls. He endorsed her candidacy to become a market team leader. She now manages 110 staffers in that role.

Read The Rest Of The WSJ Article

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