The following blog is part of HRPA’s International Women’s Day (IWD) feature. This year’s IWD theme is Inspiring Inclusion. We asked HR experts to explore a few ways HR professionals and employers can create workplaces that include and empower women. Explore with HR expert, Larysa Grant, how mentorships and sponsorships can play a vital role in promoting the inclusion of women in the workplace. Read more about 5 Ways to Inspire [Women’s] Inclusion here.

By: Larysa Grant, ACC, Times Change Women’s Employment Service

Mentorships and sponsorships play a pivotal role in inspiring inclusion and fostering the advancement and participation of women in the workforce. Despite strides towards gender equality, research consistently highlights the prevalence of biases among leadership that hinder women’s career progression. This bias often results in women being overlooked for advancement opportunities and lacking access to challenging projects necessary for career growth. In addition, men, as compared to women, get connected to a hirer-level sponsor who will connect them to higher-responsibility roles.

Sponsorship, particularly, offers a powerful mechanism for breaking through these barriers. Sponsors, typically individuals in positions of privilege and influence within an organization, actively advocate for their protégées by leveraging their network, introducing them to key stakeholders, and endorsing them for career-advancing opportunities. By doing so, sponsors not only help women navigate organizational structures but also amplify their visibility and credibility within the company.

The benefits of mentorship and sponsorship extend beyond individual career advancement. For women, having a sponsor can accelerate their professional growth and enhance their job satisfaction, ultimately leading to greater retention within the organization. Moreover, research suggests that diverse leadership teams yield better business outcomes, making gender-inclusive mentorship and sponsorship initiatives not just a matter of equity but also of organizational performance.

To effectively promote inclusion and gender diversity through mentorship and sponsorship, HR departments and employers can take proactive steps:

  1. Top-Down Communication: Ensure that leadership communicates the value and benefits of mentorship and sponsorship initiatives throughout the organization. Highlight how these programs contribute to individual and organizational success, emphasizing the importance of diversity and inclusion in driving innovation and competitiveness.
  2. Development Plans: Incorporate mentorship and sponsorship relationships into individual development plans for high-performing employees. Connect employees to mentors and sponsors who can offer guidance, support, and advocacy tailored to their career goals. Do comparison on the sponsor level for men and women in your organization to ensure equal access to top executives.
  3. Regular Check-Ins: Establish regular check-ins between mentors and mentees to track progress, provide feedback, and adjust goals as needed. Encourage open dialogue and facilitate constructive communication to foster trust and mutual understanding.
  4. Bias Awareness Training: Provide training programs for leaders to raise awareness of unconscious biases and their impact on decision-making processes. Equip leaders with strategies for mitigating bias in promotion and talent development practices, such as using diverse selection panels and implementing objective criteria for assessing performance.
  5. Performance Evaluation Integration: Link sponsorship activities to sponsors’ performance evaluations, recognizing and rewarding individuals who actively support the career advancement of their protégées. Incorporate metrics related to diversity and inclusion into performance appraisal processes to reinforce the importance of these initiatives at all levels of the organization.
  6. Reach out to third parties for guidance: Our agency, Times Change Women’s Employment Service, has been running a Breaking Barriers Program to educate employers in Canada on inclusive hiring and advancement practices for women.

By prioritizing mentorship and sponsorship as integral components of their diversity and inclusion strategies, HR departments and employers can contribute to a more equitable and thriving workplace where women are empowered to reach their full potential. These initiatives not only benefit individual employees but also drive organizational success in an increasingly competitive and diverse global landscape.