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Executive sponsorship is one of the most influential factors in the career advancement of high-potential employees. Without a doubt, one key to moving from middle management to the executive level in any organization is sponsorship. Yet, despite rallying cries over the disproportionately low number of Black professionals breaking through the glass ceiling, few have access to this critical resource.

🔥 Sponsor’s Impact

Executive sponsorship is when someone with capital and clout within an organization takes on a protégé and visibly supports their growth. Sponsors hold positions of power and influence, using both to advocate for the employee while providing career guidance and raising the protégé’s company profile. Sponsorship can have a profound impact on an employee’s career, escalating it to levels perhaps unreachable otherwise. Data published by the Harvard Business Review (HBR) show that Black professionals with a sponsor are 65% more likely to advance to the next level.

Despite the proven impact of sponsorship, only 5% of Black professionals have a sponsor, compared to 26% of white professionals (HBR). This disparity is partly due to white executives choosing to not throw their weight behind a Black employee. Black executives are also hesitant to step into the sponsorship ring. Research shows that some Black executives don’t want to risk weakening what they view as their own precarious power.

🔥 My Sponsor

Paul Fireman is the former chairman and CEO of Reebok. In 2004, I was promoted to SVP and chief communications officer at Reebok, reporting directly to Paul. That would not have been possible without Paul’s advocacy, guidance and protection over the course of many years. As one of the few managers of color at Reebok, I knew I needed protection. Many years earlier, David Perdue, the former Reebok brand president (and former U.S. Senator) stopped me in the hall and told me that as long as Paul was CEO, nothing would happen to me. I don’t know what prompted David to share that unexpected insight but he made it clear that Paul was my visible and protective sponsor. Paul’s sponsorship is what eventually led to my becoming the highest-ranking woman of color at Reebok and one of the few Black C-suite executives in the country.

🔥 Gaining Sponsorship

Employees don’t find sponsors. Sponsors find them. That usually occurs after the sponsor consistently watches and closely observes their future protégé’s strong performance, work ethic and capabilities. The below are a few ways to attract a sponsor:

  • Do great work: Executives tend not to invest in an employee who hasn’t already proven to be a rising star.
  • Be visible: If you aren’t seen, executives won’t know who you are. Put yourself out there.
  • Form relationships: This process can be intimidating but it must be done. Send emails or pick up the phone. Ask for time to meet.

If you are looking for more tips to attract a sponsor, I’d be happy to help. DM me.

Denise Kaigler is the founder and principal of MDK Brand Management, a firm specializing in brand strategy, business consultancy and career coaching.  Prior to launching her business in 2015, Denise held senior, executive and C-suite roles at several global brands. Denise is the author of Forty Dollars and a Brand: How to Overcome Challenges, Defy the Odds and Live Your Awesomeness, available online at Amazon and Barnes & Noble. She is also the creator and executive producer of Brand Rewind ™, a multi-media platform designed to entertain, explore and empower. To subscribe to Brand Rewind , click here