The key to success? A sponsor

Last night I attended a presentation of the results of economist Sylvia Ann Hewlett’s latest study: The Sponsor Effect. (Just an overview here as I plan to be writing about it elsewhere, too). Hewlett and her researchers find that advancement into the executive ranks is more likely when an upper-level manager has a “sponsor” — that is, a powerful person who uses chips on the more junior person’s behalf, advocates for his or her next promotion, and does things like promotes his or her visibility. Men, it turns out, are more likely to have sponsors than women. And within the upper echelons of big companies, that many be making the difference in who gets vaulted to the top.

Why are men more likely to have sponsors? Hewlett and her team suggest a few reasons. For one thing, women may be less comfortable with the horse-trading nature of asking people to call in favors for them; the women they surveyed were more likely than men to believe that promotions are based on hard work rather than connections. They may be less welcoming of criticism on their appearance, presence, etc. And then there is the practical matter that this is what a sponsorship relationship might look like: older senior man spending lots of one-on-one time with a junior woman. Raise anyone’s eyebrows?

The net effect of all this, though, is that when decisions are made about who is promoted to the executive ranks, women are less likely to have a sponsor pounding the table at the meeting, demanding that their candidate win.

Of course, it is the nature of big companies, once they see research, to then form a program to formalize something like this. But given the fatigue with mentoring programs, I’m not sure that “sponsor programs” will do better. It’s more of an informal thing — but something we can all consider as we try to build our careers.

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4 thoughts on “The key to success? A sponsor

  1. Interesting topics ! NPR did an interview today with this Chinese American woman who wrote a book called Tiger Mom etc. Some people call he abusive and she seems a little intense but some of her ideas seem interesting.
    Why do kids not walk home from school anymore ?
    Why dont they do chores?
    Why are they allowed to start and stop instruments or say after you pay for a program, isnt’ it like expected that your kid go to it and finish it… this isn’t necessarily a CHinese or Asian value — but Americnas have gotten more flexible in some ways about parenting and it can come off as soft…
    This lady made both her daughters practice instruments she chose (they had no choice) fo 3 hours a day and she was disgusted when her daughter took up tennis at age 13 b/c who does that and is like a rock star at it (I went to a blue collar high school where you could join and actually get on the tennis team as just an interested and hard-working freshman — no experience — and tennis remains for me a most enjoyable thing — when I do it in a chill non competitive way)
    so not everything can be that immigrant pushing mentality — we do want our kids to be happy right.. and sometimes you just play tennis or play the piano for the hXll of it right, no to do it at juliard?

    The lady seems a little intense but some of her points about maybe American kids have become too coddled is probably true… The lady seems a little intense— like not the most fun mom — but definitely a high achiever… there is a tension between self actualization and self discipline or parental push .. that parents have probably been struggling with forever !

  2. I can’t get my comment on that gifted web site — I guess I am not gifted enough but wanted to post here — There is a A LOT of research that shows that it is not just IQ that makes you successful. Most people with an above average IQ have a reasonable chance to be successful and in some cases the above average or average IQ’d person is more successful than the gifted child.
    Malcom Gladwell talks a lot about this in Outliers… I foudn that was a great book — that is there are some brilliant people with very high IQs who never amount to anything and some folks for example entrepreneurs and others who are successful b/c of their ability to pursuade and b/c they have high emotional iq.. also for example being the oldest in your class is a much better indicator of success than having the highest IQ — IQ is a very weak determin of success… and weaker still probably of happiness… are thesekids and adults happy — this lady seems uptight.. I’m sure she is happy but her point is sort of that happiness is secondary to achievement and that can be a slippery slope also… but i do see where kids can run the show and get lazy if the parents don’t promote the joy of achievement.. I just wish in my own life sometimes I could watch an hour of tv without feeling guilty — and let my kid watch up to the 2 hours of allowed tv without feeling like a horrible parent… i mean really.. that said, when I take her to preschool and it snows the neighbors say omg I can’t believe you took her to preschool.. and I”m like hello… it is OPEN adn the roads are clear.. like we should just all stay home and party any time we can i meant that doesn’t make you happy either.. it is a balance.. but screaming at your kid to practice their instrument 3 hours a day so they can go to juliard.. i mean i guess this is a question of if you think they’re capable and if your kid really wants to go to julliard right? of course I still want my kid to take music lessons but sort of assume they won’t be going to julliard.. maybe this makes me a soft parent right? I just want them to love life, and see the beauty of hard work but just also say get up in the morning and say I’m so glad to be alive; I’m so glad for the snow.. just to be happy grateful productive human beings… to love books for books not b/c they get you into the ivy league..

    1. @Alissa- definitely support at home. I intend to do a post sometime soon about this. I think there has been a big shift on this front over the last few years — we have a lot of “preschool class dads” at my son’s school. I also think that it’s a matter of many conversations and women sticking up for themselves at home. That involves our taking our careers seriously, and not excusing dads just because they push back (because sometimes they will).

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