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10 May 2011

Who’s your sponsor?


I’ve just returned from San Francisco where my colleague Monica Banting (PwC Canada’s Women in Leadership Manager) and I participated in the Boston College Global Workforce Roundtable annual meeting.


We saw hot-off-the-press research from around the globe, as well as leader perspectives on talent and diversity from Sodexo, Intel, and Kraft. 


Here are some nuggets that struck me:

Globally, 17% of graduating talent is white and male; the rest is female and / or multicultural.

The number one concern of workers around the world right now is financial wellness.

After a delicious networking Dim Sum lunch in Chinatown (we worked off the calories with a steep uphill walk back to the meeting venue), Sylvia Ann Hewlett expanded upon her research on women in emerging markets (initially shared in this Harvard Business Review article).

Hewlett reminded us that half (7 out of 14) of the world’s female self-made billionaires are from China while 15% of CEOs of large Indian companies are female (compare that to 3% in the US). 

Her research in India and China indicates a high degree of ambition coming from women in the east, which she believes successful and truly globalized companies of the future will have capitalized upon.

Despite decades of effort in the public and private sector women have largely failed to permeate top leadership ranks. 

What’s going so incredibly wrong?

According to Hewlett, it’s lack of sufficient sponsorship.  She advocates that women secure not just a mentor but a sponsor – someone in the organization with the political capital and savvy to ensure talented women don’t languish in middle management, their ambition dampened by slow upward progress compared to equally tenured male peers.

Hewlett’s parting advice to female leaders was this: “don’t wear ambivalence on your sleeve – lead with a yes.”

I couldn’t help but think this contradicted other advice from experts.  Shouldn’t women in business in fact be saying “no” more often, to avoid over-subscription and a tendency towards people-pleasing? 

I suppose it’s about delivering a strong, unwavering “yes” to the right opportunities.  Women will identify those opportunities through a combination of gut reaction, reflection, and consultation with their professional and personal support networks.  Asking for advice can be tricky and it’s easy to agonize over a major career decision.  Whom should you ask? 

Well, in my opinion – ask EVERYONE.

In my experience, getting diverse perspectives on major decisions provides the multifaceted insight needed to make a good choice.  Not necessarily the “right” or “wrong” choice, but simply the next good choice.  Your mom may say vehemently “no,” while your mentor/coach says vehemently “yes,” and your best friend says, “maybe” – and it’s likely that in those layered discussions, you’ll hear some nugget of wisdom that steers you (also – always, always, always “sleep on it” for a few nights).  Finally, if you do lead with a “yes,” there’s always the possibility that you can decline later – after said discussions.

Acquiring the right mentor to consult with is key, but I left the Boston College annual meeting reminded that women aspiring to top management must secure a powerful internal advocate who is willing to speak out for them in performance and talent reviews – to ultimately influence the organization in a way that actively draws female talent upwards. 


à bientôt,



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Interesting facts. Thanks for sharing.

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