Sponsorship, Not Mentorship, Key to Advancing Women of Color in the Workplace

senior female executive sponsors younger BIPOC exec in a meeting
By Jhaymee Tynan

3 minutes

Consider adopting a manifesto and other best practices.

Women of color face unique challenges in the workplace, with their careers often hinging on those who are lacking in diversity training. In Inclusive Sponsorship: A Bold Vision To Advance Women Of Color In The Workplace, I explore the challenges encountered by women of color who are met with indifference when their work is being evaluated, leaving them to feel unsupported and untrusting.

The feedback often doesn’t feel genuine or actionable because it is not accompanied by advice, resources, or training to close performance gaps. Instead, it is used as a stall tactic or a deflection, usually enveloped by institutionalized racism or unconscious bias. The one element that’s missing to amplify the careers of women of color is true advocacy—sponsors who are willing to promote them, based on their potential and not simply their performances.

Sponsorship is an important mechanism to promote women of color, as it allows leaders to use their political and social capital for the good of the individual being sponsored as well as the organization. In my book, I address important questions surrounding issues of sponsorship, such as:

  • What happens when political power and its use are shrouded in fear?
  • How can women of color understand who holds social and political power within their organizations and how power is exchanged?
  • What should leaders do to correct power inequalities?
  • How does understanding power dynamics impact the ability of women of color to be sponsored in their career?

A Manifesto

I created a sponsorship manifesto to make inclusive sponsorship easier for executives to understand and create a common foundation for how a sponsor should advocate for their protégés. The manifesto contains four core principles:

  • Believing in potential
  • Being generous
  • Taking risks
  • Sponsoring diverse talent

These principles ground leaders on how they should model the way for inclusive sponsorship and connect to their commitment of paying it forward and investing in others. By agreeing to use this sponsorship manifesto, or crafting their own to guide their behavior, leaders will make sponsorship the true mechanism to propel women of color into senior leadership.

Diversity must be ingrained within an organization. Without these behaviors, strategy and growth, business results will continue to suffer, and the organization will lose competitive advantage and become obsolete. Leaders must believe that they have a role in being part of the solution. When they see opportunities to extend their network to a rising Black or Brown female so that she may expand or develop her own network, they don’t hesitate. They fill the leadership pipeline and ensure that diverse talent in the pipeline flows upward to senior leadership.

Some leaders feel paralyzed to take actions of sponsorship because it can seem like a daunting task, especially if they equate sponsorship with being able to promote protégés to the next level. There are so many ways to sponsor women outside of being able to get them promoted at work that could have influential impact on their trajectory.

Sponsorship Activities by Level

Inclusive Sponsorship describes the spectrum of actions that sponsors should take based on their level of comfort and their perceived influence. The spectrum goes along with the evolution of a sponsorship relationship and is categorized by entry-, mid-, and senior-level activities.

Entry-level activities

  • Invite protégés to executive meetings
  • Introduce protégés to high-profile executives

Mid-level activities

  • Invite protégés into a private networking circle
  • Nominate protégés for speaking opportunities
  • Nominate protégés for industry awards and recognition

Senior-level activities

  • Nominate protégé for a board seat
  • Present her business case for promotion
  • Appoint her to senior-level committees

Risk or Positive Behavior?

While there is a certain level of risk inherent in sponsorship, practicing these activities as part of the leadership routine will help enrich the sponsorship relationship and grow comfort with engaging in sponsorship naturally. All the activities in the spectrum of sponsorship will have a positive impact for protégés, no matter how big or small.

Inclusive Sponsorship shows managers how to navigate away from viewing sponsorship activities as risk-taking endeavors, and instead as a positive behavior that will enable the organization to succeed and allow women of color to travel an easier path to corporate success. 

Jhaymee Tynan is an award-winning strategist, culture leader and wellness champion. She is a board-certified healthcare strategy executive and thought leader known for her values of empathy and kindness in the workplace. A former AVP/integration at Atrium Health in Charlotte, North Carolina, she is currently an active member of Egon Zehnder’s global health services, public and social sector and diversity, equity and inclusion practices in Washington, D.C. Tynan is the creator and founder of 100×2030, an initiative aimed at increasing sponsorship for women of color in healthcare over the next decade. Tynan is dedicated to amplifying the voices of black, indigenous, people of color to change the narrative on diversity in senior leadership. She believes that her fundamental responsibility as an executive is to champion the next generation of diverse leaders. Her thesis is that the lack of diverse representation in C-Suite roles is due to lack of active sponsorship for underrepresented groups.

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