I spent last week at the Grace Hopper Conference in Portland, Oregon focused on Women in Technology. Obviously, for this blog there are number of interesting topics including Facebook’s Cheryl Sandberg’s inspirational keynote. Sponsorship is another area that’s getting a lot of support from Corporate Executives across the industry. We talked about it quite a bit last week in Portland – Here’s my takeaway including “top attributes of successful sponsors…”
Betsy Speare, Principal Program Manager Lead, Windows Server Microsoft, Happy Family member, new Green Lake, Seattle Resident, 15 years at Microsoft, EWU CIS grad and chicken farmer!
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In a nutshell – senior women who benefit from executive sponsorship are more likely to advance.
Jimin Li hit on Sponsorship last week in her Women Tech blog post. Catalyst published a great article on this topic in August and the discussion has just been heating up. It’s garnering attention both because it makes sense as well as it being something we can all DOto try and reverse the trend of women in tech.
At GHC I was honored to partner in a subsection in the GHC Exec Forum with Linda Apsley, Bill Laing, Teresa Lunt, Mark Hindsbo, Rico Malvar and Rane Johnson (see her blog on GHC) to discuss the wins, challenges and outcomes of sponsorship duos. I also participated on a GHC Plenary Sessionwith three sponsorship duo (think exec/senior woman) who discussed the challenges, benefits and attributes of these sponsoring partnerships. I don’t think it was planned this way – but Linda did a great job of predicting sponsorship as a HOT TOPIC at GHC and organized that session.
Sabina Nawaz, CEO Coach, beautifully framed the GHC Exec Forum discussion by focusing our attention on conceptualizing what is working for women in tech and how the GHC Exec Forum could commit to re-creating those wins (perspective based on book SWITCH). While it’s fresh in my mind I thought I would write up what I heard and learned in those sessions. I also have a selfish motive – the Microsoft Exec group at GHC also wants to articulate a “How To” for execs at Microsoft who are looking to sponsor Women in Tech. So – please let me know what you think, what I’m missing and how we could better improve this information for both the prospective sponsor and sponsor-ee.
What’s the difference between a sponsor and a mentor?
Mentoring is about growth, learning, working through issues and decision making. Sponsors see your abilities and potential and look for the opportunity to champion your career. Bill Laing characterized mentoring as generally shorter term as well as problem specific, while sponsorship is a longer term investment because additional “spotlight” might be needed to highlight accomplishments or abilities. I’m not sure it’s always that clear – although I like the idea of clarifying the difference I think there’s a bit more cross over.
What are the top attributes of successful sponsors duos for Women in Tech?
1. A Shared Passion/Goal: Share a passion for a common goal or interest that you need each other to accomplish. Examples of this included driving best practices in secure computing, driving progress via corporate women’s communities (See the Microsoft Server & Cloud Women’s Leadership Council) and increasing the percentage of women in computing (Harvey Mudd College has gone from 12% to 42%– due to an amazing sponsoring partnership).
2. Developing 2-way trust:This shared passion becomes a win-win as the sponsor is able to “amplify” the needs and requirements of the individual as well as the project/goal underway as well as depending on the sponsor-ee to represent the shared goals and vision the other direction into the team, community or industry.
3. Integrity: Being a sponsor more than an assignment – the exec knows this person and is able to give representation this person because you know who they are, what they’ve done and have a sense of their potential. It’s a genuine belief in ability and deep knowledge of proven capability of the sponsor-ee. This gives you the clear conscious to identify opportunities for the sponsor-ee not based on favoritism, but ability.
4. Chemistry:Each duo had a unique and genuine relationship based on mutual respect. It’s clear in the successful sponsor relationships we discussed today that these people liked each other.
I’m a women in tech – how do I get my own sponsor?
This is one area that isn’t so clear – currently the idea is that senior technical women (i.e. principal, director) who wish to advance their career need executive sponsorship. In my experience, I also needed a sponsor to get to the principal/director level. Iain McDonald was a great sponsor for me and continues to be recognized as a great sponsor for women at Microsoft (perhaps a blog post from you Sir Iain)? So, now do the math – take every senior technical woman that wants to make it to the executive level – there are still more of them than there are execs who are available to sponsor. So, how to get a sponsor…
1. Ask. Ask someone you admire, think you might be able to trust and someone you think could help your career progression.
2. According to Catalyst Research,“…There is no silver bullet for attracting the attention of a high-level sponsor…. Sponsorship is earned… [with] reputations as flexible, collegial professionals who are consistently committed to their own career…” so – not sure how that’s actionable but gives another perspective.
How can I be a successful sponsor-ees?
1. Articulate what your needs and goals are clearly to your sponsor. They can’t help you if they don’t know where you want to go.
2. Don’t hide mistakes/failures – be open and honest. The funny thing is that we always think people are not aware of our faults. Usually, we’re the last to know our own “defects.” In the cases of mistakes – Sponsors on the panel encouraged us to be open and transparent about mistakes and what we’ve learned from them.
3. A question for the GHC Plenary panel asked how to deal with jealousy, accusations of favoritism or special treatment. The answer was two-fold – the first was really about the integrity of the relationship (see #3 in previous section) and the second was to be confident in your sponsorship relationship – ignore jealousy and accusations of “special treatment – ” they should get over it.
So, think of this as V1 – we’re just learning how to capture the ideas and make it actionable broadly. Looking forward to your ideas and suggestions on what might work here!