Posted: 06 Mar. 2020

The butterfly effect: Sponsorship's impact on workplace equality

Identifying concrete ways to deal with widespread inequities can be a challenge. Statistics show that New Zealand workplaces are far from equal, with pay inequity and a low number of women in leadership roles.

The problem is, there’s far more causes behind these statistics than simply unethical salary practices. Pay inequity is largely derived by the lack of women in leadership roles and with the challenges of unconscious bias and outdated working practices, many women need some extra support to push past slow-moving barriers. It’s not about giving an unfair advantage – it’s about levelling the field for everyone so that one side doesn’t have to keep playing uphill.

An actionable approach

One proven method for having more women in leadership is through sponsorship. Sponsorship is a commitment by an already established leader to use their strong influence to advocate for high-performing individual who would benefit from their advocacy. Ideally, a sponsor would provide critical experiences and exposure to influential decisions makers, which could in turn advance a sponsoree’s career.

Many women in leadership have had sponsors that have provided them with critical support in their career – for example, Deloitte Asia Pacific CEO, Cindy Hook has spoken of how sponsorship made a difference for her. It’s so effective that Deloitte is utilising it as one of the key approaches towards achieving their 2025 strategic goals of achieving at least 25% female partners, and 40% women in leadership roles.

It’s worth noting that sponsors are different from mentors, who can provide help with career direction, or coaches, who support with professional development. A sponsor will bring the sponsoree’s voice to meetings and situations that have previously been inaccessible. They use their own influence to advocate for their sponsoree’s advancement, and bring the attention of senior leaders to their work.

Cassandra’s sponsorship story

Cassandra Worrall is the Head of Clients and Marketing at Deloitte New Zealand. As the leader of a team of 26 professionals with diverse, unique roles, she has to be across a huge number of projects, all whilst shaping a comprehensive nationwide strategy. Having worked to a high standard right from her fledging career years, she herself has been a sponsoree, and speaks highly of the benefits of sponsorship.

Cassandra points out that she’s generally been lucky with the senior people she’s worked for and has not had to look outside of her direct workplace for a sponsor. One of her early sponsors led her division, although she was not a direct report. When it comes to how the sponsorship began, Cassandra says:

‘We formed a relationship early on when this particular division director noticed some of my successful project outcomes. She then asked me to work directly with her on some of her personal eminence, which luckily also involved a successful result! It also built her trust in my ability and reliability, and when she moved organisations a few years later she offered me my first big career jump.’

For Cassandra, sponsorship is not merely a one way street but it takes commitment on both sides, saying ‘the sponsor has to not only create or advocate opportunities but also support their sponsoree through challenges as well as opportunities. In turn, the sponsoree needs to also be a proactive participant, from ongoing communication to the sharing of aspirations and ideas.’

How sponsorship made an impact

She went on to have a number of sponsors and built strong relationships with those who could advocate for her when her voice wasn’t being heard and should have been. And during her time at Deloitte, things have been no different. There have been a couple of people from across the firm who have been instrumental in her recent career development and success.

A sponsor isn’t just there to speak up – they should also empower the sponsoree to take their own proactive steps in standing out from the crowd. According to Cassandra, ‘sometimes you may not even consider yourself eligible or ready for an opportunity. It definitely helps to have someone with a wider view who has faith in your ability to step up to the next challenge.’

There was one valuable action that Cassandra appreciated most of all from her sponsors, and that was encouraging her out of her comfort zone. In turn, she says, ‘they let me make my own mistakes and create my own successes, but were always ready with advice and support when I asked for it.’

Now she leads a team that, by chance, is predominantly female. It’s been an opportunity to pay her experience forward, saying ‘the people you work with are the most important driver of your own success.  I have always believed in the importance of sponsoring and developing the talented individuals I work with, male or female, and seeing their careers thrive both inside and outside of Deloitte.’

Read more about how Deloitte New Zealand is recognising International Women's Day 2020 here

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Jen Scouler

Jen Scouler

Senior Digital Content Advisor

Jen Scouler is a Senior Digital Content Advisor at Deloitte, working across the firm's digital communications and social media.