Why Women Need Career Sponsors: Navigating the Path to Professional Success

Why Women Need Career Sponsors: Navigating the Path to Professional Success
Why Women Need Career Sponsors: Navigating the Path to Professional Success

As they attempt to advance their careers career and acquire professional success, it’s common for women to encounter many challenges that often differ from those faced by their male colleagues.

While recently, there has been great progress made towards workplace gender equality, women still lag behind men in terms of representation in leadership roles – and in access to opportunities for career development.

According to the Harvard Business Review one of the reasons too few women fail to reach the top of their organisations, is because they are not being given a shot at the high-stakes assignments that are a prerequisite for the C-suite.

The majority of CEO’s still come from positions of authority, where they had autonomy over major initiatives, with profit and loss responsibility.

Yet as they ascend their organisation’s ladder, many high-ranking women often take on staff jobs requiring focused expertise, as opposed to jobs that give them responsibility over important projects.

This trend is not being mirrored by their male counterparts, as the amount of men in line jobs has stayed the same. As McKinsey’s Women Matter Study shows, by the time women reach upper-middle management, only 20% have roles that assign them profit and loss responsibilities.

A key factor that could help address this imbalance is the presence of career sponsors— people who wield power, who actively advocate for and support women in their professional growth.

The Gender Gap in Leadership

Though there is an ever- increasing amount of women entering the workforce, when it comes to leadership roles, the gender gap remains significant.

Many studies show that women are continually underrepresented in senior management and executive roles, across a variety of industries. This chronic lack of female representation can be attributed to many different factors, including gender and societal expectations, unconscious prejudice and systemic barriers.

What Role Can Career Sponsors Play?

Career sponsors have a vital role to play in dismantling the barriers women frequently face, helping women to advance in their careers.

Unlike mentors who mostly provide guidance, support and advice, sponsors proactively promote and endorse their protégés, recommending them for promotions, high-profile projects, and leadership positions. Sponsors can leverage their influence and networks to open more doors and create routes for career advancement.

Advocacy and Advancing Female Visibility

One of the biggest benefits for women of having a career sponsor, is gaining increased visibility in the workplace. This is particularly important in male-dominated industries, where informal networks and relationships heavily influence career progression. In these sectors, women can often be overlooked or excluded from key opportunities – but a sponsor can act as a counterweight to this.

Sponsors can serve as vocal advocates and champions, ensuring that talented women receive the recognition, rewards and visibility they deserve.

Gaining Access to Opportunities

As well as boosting women’s workplace visibility, career sponsors can provide access to pivotal opportunities that can rapidly propel women’s careers – from assignments on high-impact projects, to participation in leadership development programs, and introductions to influential stakeholders.

By actively promoting their protégés, sponsors can help women to gain essential skills, grow their networks, and position themselves to thrive long-term.

Addressing the Gender Bias

Gender bias still dogs far too many workplaces, though now it frequently appears in subtle, yet impactive ways. Women often face challenges such as having credit for their ideas given to others, or getting overlooked for promotions.

Career sponsors can help mitigate the effects of this prejudice by advocating for fairer treatment, challenging stereotypes, and creating more inclusive workplaces.

Smashing Through the Glass Ceiling

The “glass ceiling”— an invisible barrier stopping women from attaining the highest levels of leadership— is an all too familiar concept to numerous ambitious female professionals.

Career sponsors help to shatter this barrier by working to place women into more senior leadership roles. If they advocate for gender diversity at the highest levels of the business, sponsors will not only benefit individual women, they’ll contribute to the creation of a more diverse, inclusive and equitable workplace.

Nurturing a Sponsorship Culture

The benefits of career sponsorship for women are numerous and clear – but it’s important to recognize that it shouldn’t be restricted to a select few.

Creating a continuous culture of sponsorship within the business, that is easily accessible, is crucial for cultivating diversity and inclusion at every level.

Senior leaders shouldn’t merely sponsor junior talent – they should also provide adequate training, as well as resources to help employees develop more effective, impactive sponsorship relationships.


In today’s competitive work environment, women will require career sponsors to overcome the challenges they face in the workplace, so they can go on to achieve their full potential.

By advocating for and supporting women in their professional development, sponsors will play an essential role in dissolving career barriers, creating more opportunity, and encouraging a culture of inclusion.

As organisations across the board strive for greater gender equality and diversity, investing in career sponsorship programs will become more of a priority. It’s a smart choice – as not only is it the ethical thing to do, it’s also a savvy business decision that will be of great long-term benefit to all involved.

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