By Toni Gonzales

Toni Gonzales headshot“We’d like to recognize and thank our sponsors for making today possible.” We often hear that at events when organizations thank the companies and individuals from the community that helped sponsor the important work being done. Sponsors give the little extra that can lead to great things in our communities.

Sponsorship is just as important when it comes to making a difference in advancing individuals, but here the investment isn’t necessarily monetary; instead, it’s social capital and professional investment. It provides external support such as advocacy, visibility, promotion and connections. Sponsorship is not the same as mentorship, although it can often grow from a mentoring relationship if a mentee becomes a protégée.

How can you be a sponsor and make a difference in the advancement of a high-potential woman? Let’s talk about the A, B, and C of sponsorship.

A equals Amplifying, being aware of and talking up the accomplishments of a protégée with others to create, or increase, others’ positive impressions of them. As a sponsor, when we share and promote another’s accomplishments, it has more impact than their own self-promotion. This is particularly important with women who tend to shy away from promotion of our accomplishments more than our male peers. In last week’s WIFS LeadHER blog post, Sarah Williams shared best practices for social media. Social media, especially LinkedIn, is a great way to amplify the professional accomplishments and achievements of others.

B is for Boosting, nominating a woman for specific opportunities and attesting to her potential. This increases the opportunities and expectations for advancement. And in an industry that has been historically male-dominated in field-facing and leadership roles, it is especially important to address unconscious bias, which can limit the pool of who is considered for advancement. Without your nomination the decision-makers may not even have the individual on their radar.

C is for Connecting, the introduction of a protégée to high-ranking and influential people via exclusive meetings and events. This exposes the individual to new experiences, new ideas and new relationships that they may otherwise not have access to. Additionally, this gives credibility to the individual by nature of you as their sponsor being willing to personally stake your influence and impression with the invitation. Your clout and reputation can create the “halo effect” for an up-and-comer who hasn’t had the chance to prove themselves at your level yet.

Many of us have benefited from sponsorship in some form or another in our professional lives. As an example, I was asked to serve on my first local industry board by their male president. That individual acted as my sponsor, which gave me the exposure and opportunities to serve on additional state boards and national committees. In each of these cases I was the first woman, or one of the few women, on the executive boards. By having high-ranking male allies figuratively open the door to these boards for me, I was then able to turn around and hold the door open for more women to join by amplifying, boosting and connecting them as roles opened up.

As sponsors we are in a position to use our social capital and influence to lift up those who might otherwise go unnoticed. Sponsorship is a personal action that all of us can take to help increase diversity, equity and inclusion in our profession.

What are some simple things that you can you do to be a sponsor to a woman in our profession?

  • Amplify a woman’s voice on LinkedIn.
  • Boost a woman by nominating her when a position she is qualified for comes open in your company or a board you serve on.
  • Connect a woman to decision-makers and influencers by inviting her to an important event that you are speaking at or attending.

Rise Up! Be the change.

Toni Gonzales, MBA, LACP is Vice President, Recruiting, Development and Sales, Greater Southwest at Ohio National Financial Services and WIFS National Vice President.