Have you ever sponsored anyone? I keep bumping into this notion of sponsorship. Earlier this week, I spoke with a friend who serves in the military, in a rank that few women achieve. We were talking about why women transition out of the military. Her top reason? Lack of sponsorship. I know, I know. This is nothing new. We cite sponsorship, or lack thereof, for all sorts of advancement shortfalls. With so little progress, I can’t help but wonder if there isn’t another way to approach this. What if we are missing the cues for sponsorship?
First let me level set our understanding of sponsorship. The word is all around us. It lives at the intersection of nearly every consumer brand and our sports-enthused society, like Gillette’s sponsorship of the home of the New England Patriot’s, Gillette Stadium.
While lovely for the Patriots, I am not interested in this type of sponsorship.
I am talking about personal sponsorship, or our willingness to advocate for another person in a setting or in a way that will be beneficial to the sponsored person.
It happens in big and small ways.
Like when my neighbor suggested that her retired mother run the Tag Sale at the annual fair. Or when my study group mate was sponsored by a senior executive for an overseas assignment. Or when my friend’s son, who thankfully is on the other side of a substance abuse problem, chose to sponsor another 20-something who was just starting his treatment.
When was the last time you sponsored another?
I have to come clean on this topic. Over the past few weeks I’ve been trying unsuccessfully to get my network to sponsor candidates for a Board seat. I’ve been frustrated and dismayed by the experience.
I serve on the nominating and governance committee for the Girl Scouts in Eastern MA, a not-for-profit that serves >35,000 young girls. Since December I’ve been networking to identify potential new Board members. My net take-away after culling through layers upon layers of my contacts is simply this: people cannot be bothered to make the effort. They are too busy, too distracted, too important. Too….?
When I summon my best self, I skate away from these negative reasons and believe that we are ‘missing the cues.’ Without this rationale, I find my conclusions too unsettling.
Transition has taught me that sponsorship is a type of recognition. It says to the recipient, ‘I believe in you,’ or ‘I believe in the value you can bring to a situation.’
Imagine how nice that message would play if you heard it on your worst day.
Anna Fels’, psychiatrist and author of, Necessary Dreams: Ambition in Women’s Changing Lives, identified the real risks women face without recognition. “Women who are not supported by appreciative communities pay a steep price. They often fail to understand why, in the absence of such affirmation, they feel unmotivated and demoralized. They blame it on their lack of discipline or character or talent. But if sources of recognition are unavailable or inadequate or outside of a woman’s control, the chances are dim that she will thrive in her chosen enterprise.” (Women & Transition, pg 64)
All of us can act on behalf of others, regardless of our circumstances.
If you are not sure how, here are some ideas:
- Take the Time to Understand:
- Take time to understand what ‘reach’ might mean for those you plan on sponsoring. A ‘reach’ is something that will bring energy and vitality to the person. These ‘reach’ answers will differ…an advocacy support group for a full-time care provider; or a Town Committee role for a stay-at-home mom; or a coordinator role for the Job Seeker’s Coffee Hour for the empty-nester looking to re-enter the workforce; or a conversation with a lawyer for an aspiring recent grad who is considering law school. The specifics of what constitutes ‘reach’ don’t matter, gaining an understanding of another person’s interest does.
- Keep Your Eyes Wide Open:
- Opportunities to sponsor another person come up everywhere. Be on the lookout. You might initiate a conversation or steer a conversation in a particular direction. It can happen at the office, on the school playground, on your way into the grocery store, via email, or on the way to the airport with your work colleagues in tow.
- Be Ready with a Phrase:
- Be ready to act. I’ve found that being ready with a phrase is the simplest way to prepare. “I wonder if….” or “I know just the person…” or “Could we consider…..” Sponsorship begins with a positioning that you are comfortable with because you need to act 1st. Choose a phrase, be ready to use it.
- Practice Makes Perfect:
- Sponsorship, like voice, improves with practice. Start small. Connect two people or connect someone to a group or connect a mid-level manager to a senior decision maker. Begin.
I would be lying if I didn’t tell you that I’ve benefited greatly from sponsorship. Without it, a tech entrepreneur like me would never have gotten the chance to work in the c-suite of a Fortune 500. So too, I would not have had the opportunity to speak with countless audiences in the last year about my work in transition.
Maybe that’s why I am so beside myself that I am not able to find people willing to sponsor candidates for the Girl Scouts Board.
As you encounter the gift of a quiet moment, I hope that you think about sponsorship. I’ve come to realize that at its simplest level, sponsorship is our own voice in service of others. Maybe its time to adjust the volume on yours….
For those willing to lend their voice my way, please send me a note if you’d like to sponsor someone for the Girl Scouts of Eastern MA Board opportunity (linda@WomenAndTransition.com)
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