Sponsoring talent places influential allies in your corner

In the world of business, one crucial element often goes overlooked: sponsorship of talent. You might be a rising star or a seasoned professional, armed with skills and determination, but that can only get you so far…

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Meritocracy – the idea that success is solely based on merit – is, sadly, flawed. Carla Harris, Vice Chairperson of Wealth Management and Senior Client Advisor at Morgan Stanley agrees: “You cannot have a 100 per cent meritocratic environment when there is a human element involved in the evaluative equation. Because by definition that makes it subjective.”  

"Ambitious employees should seek to be seen in a different light, with your broadest possible skill base and avoid being pigeonholed or defined by your last job or the last interaction with a person. And one really effective way of doing that is through sponsorship” – Shayne Elliott, CEO, ANZ

So, how can you stack the odds in your favour? Enter sponsorship, the secret weapon that propels you to new heights by placing influential allies in your corner.  

Harris describes the moment of realisation in her career: “I knew at that moment that somebody would have to be behind closed doors arguing on my behalf, present content in such a way, that other decision makers around that table would answer in my best favour. What do you call this person? A sponsor.”

Sponsoring pays off

I recently spoke with ANZ Chief Executive Officer Shayne Elliott on the importance of sponsorship and he added his own perspective.

“Ambitious employees should seek to be seen in a different light, with your broadest possible skill base and avoid being pigeonholed or defined by your last job or the last interaction with a person. And one really effective way of doing that is through sponsorship,” he said.

“It's really having somebody as an advocate for you and the organisation that can keep an eye out with your best interests in mind. They should help navigate those opportunities and make sure you're ready and available when openings come along.”

McKinsey’s Women in the Workplace report, revealed “women leaders are switching jobs at the highest rates we’ve ever seen”— and at higher rates than men in leadership. That could have serious implications for companies. “Women leaders are just as ambitious as men, but at many companies they face headwinds that signal it will be harder to advance,” the report says.

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“Women leaders are as likely as men at their level to want to be promoted and aspire to senior-level roles. In many companies, however, they experience microaggressions that undermine their authority and signal that it will be harder for them to advance,” the report says.

For example, according to McKinsey, “they are far more likely than men in leadership to have colleagues imply that they aren’t qualified for their jobs. And women leaders are twice as likely as men leaders to be mistaken for someone more junior.”

“Women leaders are also more likely to report that personal characteristics, such as their gender or being a parent, have played a role in them being denied or passed over for a raise, promotion or chance to get ahead.”

But right now, we’re witnessing a groundswell of awareness and momentum as people recognise promoting women in leadership goes beyond mere equality. It holds the key to unlocking a vast reserve of untapped potential, embracing diverse perspectives and fostering an innovative culture that drives sustainable success.

Importantly, McKinsey adds “to make meaningful and sustainable progress toward gender equality, companies should consider focusing on two broad goals: getting more women into leadership and retaining the women leaders they already have. That will require pushing beyond common practices.”

Not mentoring

Sponsorship doesn't just benefit the “Sponsee” or “Protégé”; it's a two-way street that cultivates learning for both parties. And it’s very different to mentoring.

Shayne says mentoring will “help you deal with the challenges that you have, constructive advice, etc.” With Sponsorship, “there's an agency role. I'm going to essentially be your agent, your talent agent and I'm going to make sure that people know you as well as I do and respect the strengths that you have as well as I do.”

“Because I've got the opportunity forums access that you don't have, and that's what I'm going to add to the relationships.”

Forging these relationships and supporting talent in this way has a power to it, unlike anything else. “When you look back at the things that you achieved, talk about the various jobs you’ve had, I'm telling you the thing that you remember is actually the people that you sponsored and the people that you gave opportunity to. That's the stuff that really sticks out in your mind,” says Shayne.

We’re at the precipice of an extraordinary era – and we each have the power to change the future. Embrace the responsibility to play a role, you’ll thank yourself later.

ANZ has launched its own Executive Sponsorship program. Now in its second year, the program involves matching high performers and high potential female talent with executive sponsors from within the business.

The most recent program involves 80 people across the Technology Division. It’s especially important in Tech because women still encounter barriers to both entry and promotion within this field.

ANZ has a range of initiatives aimed at enhancing the representation of women in leadership roles with a particular focus on the technology sector – including the acclaimed Return to Work program which supports skilled individuals looking to re-enter the workforce after a career break.

ANZ is committed to fostering talent mobility through its dedicated platform in Tech, empowering employees to explore new opportunities for growth and advancement.

ANZ Tech early talent programs, in which female participation is 50 per cent, support the next generation of leaders and the banks collaboration with industry partners like Go Girl, Go For IT ensure a pipeline of technical talent for years to come.

Carina Parisella is Innovation and Diversity Editor at bluenotes

The views and opinions expressed in this communication are those of the author and may not necessarily state or reflect those of ANZ.

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