September 29, 2016

Should women look to men as professional sponsors?

Women are still working their way to the top, accounting for a small number of spots among leadership positions (for now, anyway!). On this climb up, many are looking for sponsors, but the pool of high-level female professionals is small. Are we limiting ourselves if we are not looking at male leaders for sponsorship?

As the national leader of CBIZ Women’s Advantage (CWA), I take pride in helping to cultivate our company’s rich employee base of female professionals, but I also recognize that we cannot work in silos if we are ever going to achieve workplace equality and gender parity. That’s why, as we continue to advance the pillars established by CWA, we must encourage our female employees to look beyond gender confines and select a sponsor who is best-suited to help them achieve professional success.

How can I select a sponsor?

Having a sponsor is not a “perk” – it is a required step in career advancement. To intentionally own your career path, you must actively and strategically pursue career-building relationships with the right individuals at your company who will help guide your way. Here are some questions you  should ask yourself to make sure you’re identifying the right sponsor for your career, regardless of that person’s sex:

  1. What ability does this person have to influence my career advancement?
  2. How well does this person know me – my professional history, skills and goals?
  3. Will I feel comfortable confiding in and absorbing feedback from this person?
  4. Can I trust that this person will identify strengths and weaknesses of mine that I don’t see in myself? 

The “testosterone factor”

Women who have done their due diligence and determined that their ideal sponsor is in fact a man may benefit from “the testosterone factor” – a unique perspective that men can share regarding their lessons learned and the tools they have used, which women sometimes don’t instinctively see and utilize. I am not suggesting we return to the days of acting or dressing like men, but we need to acknowledge that there is much to be learned from our male colleagues.

I’ve relayed the importance of mentorship and sponsorship before. Unfortunately, too many of us naturally infer that we must select a mentor or sponsor of the same gender – an assumption that extends the cycle of gender disparity and sometimes limits our ability to move up the career ladder.

I am not trying to change the rules here, but more importantly add a critical ingredient to your advancement strategy: Broaden your field of possibilities. Gender diversity among sponsors and ambitious professionals – whether either of those roles is filled by a man or a woman – enables us to learn the best tips, tools and traits and incorporate them into our professional demeanor and behavior moving forward.

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