The Power of Sponsorship in Advocating for Women in Underrepresented Spaces

 What do you feel is stopping you from progressing up the ladder in your organisation?

I recently ran a LinkedIn poll posing this question and the results were somewhat unsurprising. 46% of respondents said they felt there was unconscious bias in leadership, 42% said they lacked sponsorship, 8% felt there was a lack of representation to aspire to a leadership role, and 4% had other reasons.  

While we still see a considerable amount of unconscious bias, what helps to break through this is the sponsorship of women in the workplace by men in the team. In the journey towards gender equality and diversity in the workplace, it’s crucial to go beyond mentorship and embrace the power of sponsorship. 

In this blog post, I share more about the concept of sponsorship, focusing on how senior leaders can be supported to advocate for women in spaces lacking their representation—a critical step in addressing the disparity between over-mentored and under-sponsored.

Understanding the Difference: Mentorship vs. Sponsorship


Mentorship involves providing guidance, advice, and support to help individuals develop their skills and navigate their career paths. It’s a valuable relationship for personal and professional growth but may not always translate into tangible opportunities for advancement.


Sponsorship, on the other hand, is about actively advocating for someone’s career advancement. Sponsors leverage their influence to create opportunities, champion individuals for promotions, and ensure their visibility in key decision-making circles.

The Challenge: Over-Mentored, Under sponsored

While mentorship programs have gained momentum, many women still find themselves in a situation where they receive guidance, advice and an abundance of extra projects BUT lack the influential backing necessary for career advancement. This imbalance has contributed to the concept of being over-mentored and undersponsored.

How Senior Leaders Can Advocate for Women

1. Promote Visibility

Sponsors can actively seek opportunities to highlight the achievements and capabilities of women within the company. This might include recommending them for high-profile projects, speaking engagements, or, better still leadership roles that increase visibility.

2. Nominate for Opportunities

Senior leaders can use their influence to ensure deserving individuals are considered for opportunities that align with their skills and aspirations.

Act as a proactive advocate by nominating women for promotions, leadership roles, or awards. 

3. Provide Strategic Guidance

Sponsors offer strategic guidance beyond day-to-day advice. They help women navigate company politics, understand the unwritten rules of advancement, and strategically position themselves for career progression.

4. Cultivate a Network

Senior leaders can actively include women in their professional networks, introducing them to key influencers and decision-makers. This not only expands women’s access to opportunities but also integrates them into influential circles.

5. Advocate in Closed Rooms

Sponsorship becomes particularly impactful in closed-door decision-making spaces where women may not be represented. Senior leaders can use their influence to ensure diverse perspectives are considered in crucial discussions and decision-making processes.

6. Challenge Unconscious Bias

Sponsors play a role in challenging unconscious bias within the organisation. By actively promoting a culture of inclusivity and fairness, they contribute to breaking down barriers that may hinder the advancement of women.

7. Provide Honest Feedback

Sponsors offer constructive and honest feedback, helping women identify areas for growth and improvement. This feedback is invaluable for career development and enhances the individual’s readiness for advancement.

Supporting Senior Leaders in Their Sponsorship Role

1.Training and Education

Organisations can provide training programs that educate senior leaders about the importance of sponsorship and equip them with the skills needed to fulfil this role effectively.

2. Recognition and Incentives

Acknowledge and celebrate leaders who actively sponsor the career advancement of women. Recognition and incentives can motivate senior leaders to continue advocating for diversity and inclusion.

3. Diverse Leadership Panels

Encourage the formation of diverse leadership panels within the organisation. Having diverse voices in leadership discussions ensures that different perspectives are considered when making critical decisions.

4. Establish Mentorship-to-Sponsorship Pathways

Create structured pathways that allow successful mentorship relationships to naturally transition into sponsorships. This ensures a seamless progression and a more comprehensive support system for career development.

In the pursuit of gender equality and inclusivity, sponsorship emerges as a potent force that can bridge the gap between mentorship and tangible career advancement. Senior leaders, equipped with the understanding of sponsorship’s transformative power, can actively advocate for women in spaces where their representation is lacking. By providing strategic guidance, creating opportunities, and challenging biases, sponsors become catalysts for change, reshaping organisational cultures to be more diverse, equitable, and inclusive. 

If you would like to support your team with mentoring and sponsorship development to ensure your talent pipeline is always full with the right people, get in touch. 

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