In her career, Carol Stephenson has both mentored and sponsored others and been mentored and sponsored herself. There’s a real benefit to helping others, a feeling of accomplishment along with obligation, said the dean of the Richard Ivey School of Business at the University of Western Ontario in London, Ont.
“If you care about the issue, it feels great to get results so if you get results, you want to do it again,” said Stephenson. “You have seen how it has benefited you, if you’ve been sponsored so, therefore, you’ve seen how it works… so you’re probably more likely to want to do that for somebody else.”
That kind of attitude is mirrored in a study released by Catalyst, an organization dedicated to building inclusive environments and expanding opportunities for women at work.
The study looked at the factors associated with people being developed in their careers and, in turn, “paying it forward.”
When it came to gender differences, women are more likely to develop others when compared to men. And among high potentials who had someone developing them through their careers, women (65 per cent) were more likely than men (56 per cent) to offer similar support to someone else, according to High Potentials in the Pipeline: Leaders Pay it Forward.
“I’m not surprised women seeking out mentors in great numbers are also paying it forward in greater numbers,” said Christine Silva, senior director of research at Catalyst in Toronto. “I would speculate they’ve seen great role models in the workplace of women who develop others and they’re emulating that — they see the need for that to happen.”
Women who have risen to senior leadership positions in business know it’s not always easy, so they want to help other women achieve similar success, said Stephenson.
“I tend to think I was helped along the way, so I should be helping others and, secondly, I really want things to improve in terms of the number of women in executive ranks, so I’m going to help women,” she said. “It’s a positive feeling, it’s rewarding as a woman to have helped another woman and sponsored another woman and seen the results and see how they go on to do even more.”
Additionally, women don’t let long hours get in the way of developing talent, found the study, based on responses from 742 people who had attended full-time MBA programs and worked full time. Among high potentials working more than 60 hours per week, women were more likely than men to be developing others (76 per cent of women versus 57 per cent of men).
“It’s not something you only do when you have the luxury of time. Instead, it’s something senior leaders recognize as an important part of their role,” said Silva.
Women probably consider it a bigger issue than men so they make a commitment to help somebody, regardless of their workloads, said Stephenson.
“Busy people helped me so I’m no busier than they were when they helped me, so I’m going to continue helping.”
Development support important
Catalyst also found a higher percentage (59 per cent) of high potentials who had received developmental support — such as role modelling, job or career advice, or sponsorship — were more likely to be offering similar support to a protegé than those who hadn’t received this kind of support (47 per cent).
And the type of development matters — two-thirds of high potentials who were sponsored were developing others compared to 42 per cent of those who hadn’t been sponsored, found the study. This reinforces how valuable and powerful sponsorship is to career advancement, said Silva.
“Not to discount the importance of something like mentoring — because it’s absolutely important for someone’s personal and professional development to have that advice and guidance and someone you can bounce ideas with and get that sort of support from — but development is different from advancement and sponsorship really makes a difference when it comes to getting that next role or getting that next challenge,” she said.
“A sponsor can really help pull you up the corporate ladder and it just has a different outcome associated with it.”
With sponsorship, you’re more actively opening doors for people, said Stephenson.
“Mentoring, you’re giving them advice, you’re coaching them, but once you start moving into the realm of, ‘Have you ever thought about so-and-so in an executive position?’ that’s a whole different thing than saying, ‘If you want that position, here’s what you need to do.’”
Fiona Macfarlane, managing partner for Western Canada and chief inclusiveness officer at Ernst & Young in Vancouver, has been a mentor herself and sponsored a number of individuals.
She also had two sponsors who made a big difference in her career. One was a tax managing partner at Ernst & Young.
“He made sure that my accomplishments were known and seen by others who would be making those decisions, so it didn’t just happen by accident.”
The other was a managing partner who took Macfarlane under his wing.
“I became noticed, I got some profile that wouldn’t have happened if I’d just been beavering away on my own — it would have been more luck than deliberate.”
Paying it forward is also associated with monetary gains, according to Catalyst’s study, which found high potentials developing protegés had greater compensation growth of $25,075 from 2008 to 2010.
“(Paying it forward is) good for the person receiving that development and sponsorship but it’s also good for the person doing the developing and sponsoring themselves,” said Silva. “Those who paid it forward advanced further and faster than those who weren’t and they earned more over a two-year window.”
As to why, it’s possible the people who are developing others are signalling to their organization they have both leadership potential and a big picture of what’s needed for the organization, she said.
“They are committed to identifying talent and developing them and making sure the organization has the skilled leaders it needs,” said Silva. “Identifying talent is really a critical leadership skill and if you’re demonstrating that skill by developing others, you will be rewarded for it.”
It could just be that spotting and developing talent is one of the hallmarks of a good leader, said Macfarlane.
“So if you’re a good leader, hopefully you get paid more eventually.”
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