3 steps to create a formal sponsorship program

Informal sponsorship programs should be swapped out for formal ones to better advance diversity, equity and inclusion efforts, according to a new report by HR research and advisory firm McLean and Co. released Jan. 31. 

Informal relationships can be influenced by organizational barriers and biases, which can create challenges for underrepresented workers seeking career growth, McLean said. 

Elysca Fernandes, director of HR research and advisory services at McLean and Co., said organizations need to take intentional action to address leadership representation gaps and see meaningful change. 

“Employee sponsorship exists across a spectrum of formality. Informal sponsorship approaches, though important for career development and maintaining networks, risk perpetuating the status quo and lack of leadership diversity. Formal sponsorship goes a step beyond in addressing organizational-level barriers,” Fernandes said in a statement. 

McLean offers a three-step process to set up a formal sponsorship program. 

  1. Establish the need for sponsorship: Evaluate the organization’s readiness for a sponsorship program; identify employee segments that would benefit from sponsorship; and set goals and metrics for the program. 
  2. Design the program: Develop the sponsorship program structure; identify program constraints; set expectations and goals; and create selection and matching criteria. 
  3. Implement the program: Create a program action plan and a program communication plan; select and match participants; provide training and resources; and monitor the program. 

McLean advises that sponsorship can’t be a one-size-fits-all solution and should be customized based on the needs of each employee segment. The company suggests using an intersectional lens to address different barriers to advancement each group faces.