Set up a Workplace Programme to Sponsor Underrepresented Groups

July 2019

What do Diageo, Sky, Unilever, Proctor and Gamble and Transport for London have in common? They have all implemented programmes to increase sponsorship of women and underrepresented groups within their leadership teams.

Sponsorship programmes

On its own a sponsorship programme can help, but it’s not a silver bullet. A sponsorship programme needs to be part of a wider set of initiatives to improve gender equality within the workplace. Sponsorship programmes can be put in place in parallel with establishing a broader programme to enhance diversity within the organisation.

These type of programmes are most effective when they have the following in place:

  • they are led from the top
  • the organisation has a Diversity policy and action plan
  • real measurements
  • regular progress tracking
  • strong communications

Shockingly, CMI CEO Anne Franke highlighted that CMI’s research had found 7 out of 10 managers did not know if their organisation has an action plan for diversity.

Effective diversity programmes require measurement from the top, cultural change and changes to process and practices at every level including recruitment, retention, promotion, recognition, mentoring and sponsorship.

Case study: Sky

Chris Stylianou, Chief Operating Officer, UK and Ireland at Sky, is sponsor for Sky’s Women in Leadership (WiL) programme. The programme has increased the proportion of women leaders from 31% to 40% during the last two years. Sky’s target is to reach a 50:50 gender balance in leadership positions.

Sky invites all women managers to be part of the sponsorship programme. The HR team matchEs individuals from different areas who have similar styles. Sponsors can be male or female and they sponsor up to three sponsees who are one level below Them in the management structure.

Each sponsee commits to sponsor up to three sponsees one management level below them and so on. Very quickly this has enable Sky to scale the programme to include more than 400 women leaders.

At Sky the sponsee is responsible for leading and driving sponsor meetings and follow up. The sponsor is responsible for facilitating career outcomes for their sponsee.

Sky tracks progress by measuring the gender balance in promotions, job rotations, retention and looks at women’s satisfaction with their role through employee surveys. All these measurements have shown improvement.

A critical success factor has been the engagement of a high proportion of men in management positions. This has been achieved partially through the leadership commitment to this programme from the CEO and through incentives.

Does your organisation have a sponsorship programme for groups who are underrepresented in leadership positions? Below you will find links to additional resources to support the set up of a similar programme within your own organisation.

Jo Strain
CMI Southern Lead for Inclusion

Share your tips and tools for establishing an effective sponsorship programme via Twitter on @CMISouthern or LinkedIn: CMI Southern Region

Additional Resources

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