Mentorship and Sponsorship Are Keys to Unlocking the Next Generation of Talent

As a leader, one of your most important responsibilities is developing the next generation of leaders. No one knows that better than Catalyst Honours Champion Caroline Gayle, Managing Director, Technology Financial Services, Accenture, who said, “For those of us sitting in leadership positions… you have to be taken there.”

Mentorship and sponsorship were key topics at the 2023 Catalyst Honours Conference & Dinner —and with good reason. The conference theme, “Accelerating Equity on All Fronts—So Women Thrive,” urged leaders to build more gender-equitable workplaces from the front line to the C-suite. Mentorship and sponsorship are two of the tried-and-true, results-driven ways for companies to achieve equity.

Mentors vs. aponsors, what’s the difference?

Sponsors are advocates in positions of authority who use their influence intentionally to help others advance, while mentors provide advice, feedback, and coaching. Both are important to advancement as employees navigate the workplace and earn opportunities for growth.

Relevancy is paramount

Programs focused on advancing members of marginalized groups in the workplace through mentorship and sponsorship are critical for cultivating future leaders. However, mentor and sponsor relationships require understanding and accountability from both parties. Mentors and sponsors must understand each person’s unique background, life experiences, and career stage to provide relevant guidance.

“You have these moments of intense challenge. Whether it’s around raising your children… dealing with elder care or dealing with mental health challenges. The mentors that I have had [were] there for all those aspects of my life,” recounted Catalyst Honours Champion Mona Malone, Chief Human Resources Officer and Head, People, Culture & Brand, BMO Financial Group.

Pass on your privilege

Panelists in “Moving Beyond Diversity Toward Racial Equity” reminded mentors and sponsors to acknowledge systemic racism and the power of passing on their privilege.

Sabina Michael, Associate Director, Intercultural Skills Lab, Rotman School of Management, University of Toronto noted that some groups, such as members of marginalized racial and ethnic groups and immigrants, lack access to important professional networks.

She advised sponsors to actively help their protegées gain access, saying, “Just by telling them, ‘These are the doors’ sometimes is not enough. As a sponsor, you need to go and press those buttons for them, so they can open the door.”

Seek out people to sponsor

Letecia Rose, Vice President, Diversity, Inclusion & Belonging, Canadian Tire Corporation rallied leaders to act. “If you have ERGs [Employee Resource Groups], if you have affinity groups, you can’t say, ‘Well I don’t know where the people are.’ You do. They exist. They are dying for you to tap them on the shoulder.”

How mentors and sponsors can unlock talent

Developing future leaders requires patience, empathy, and commitment to unlocking access and opportunity.Key takeaways from these sessions include:

Mentors and sponsors play a critical role in advancing careers, especially for people from marginalized groups. They provide access to opportunities, guidance, and advocacy. Mentors can show the paths available, but sponsors can open doors and advocate for others.
Mentors and sponsors must truly understand the unique barriers facing employees from marginalized groups to effectively advocate for them.
Mentors and sponsors should actively seek out people who need sponsorship using employee resource groups as talent resource pools.
Companies with successful mentorship and sponsorship programs do more than dedicate time and resources. They also visibly support these programs at the highest levels of the organizations.
When allies develop cultural literacy and have open conversations, they can help companies make progress on the journey toward gender and racial equity.

If you know an impactful and inclusive leader, consider nominating them for the Catalyst Honours! Nominations for 2024 are open through February 16, 2024.

Sign up to receive reminders for upcoming webinars, roundtables, and conferences.

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