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September 20, 2012 3:18 AM   Subscribe

The Sponsor Effect: Breaking through the Last Glass Ceiling (pdf) Women aren't making it to the top. Despite gains in middle and senior management, they hold just 3 percent of Fortune 500 CEO positions. In the C-suite, they're outnumbered four to one. What's keeping women under the glass ceiling? High-performing women simply don't have the sponsorship they need to reach the top. The study found that women underestimate the role sponsorship plays in their advancement. And those who do grasp its importance fail to cultivate it. It's also a classic catch-22: a woman's personal choices, whatever they may be, brand her as not quite leadership material. What will it take to promote sponsorship?
posted by infini (33 comments total) 17 users marked this as a favorite

 
Survey research sponsored by:

American Express, with one woman and twelve men on its Board of Directors.

Intel, where two of ten BoD members are women and where you do not see a large number of women in executive positions.

Morgan Stanley, where two of fourteen BoD members are female.

and Delotte whom I am too disinterested to Google expecting to find the same thing.

Interesting sponsors to have for a study on this "sponsor effect." It would seem they are doing sponsorship all wrong.
posted by three blind mice at 3:40 AM on September 20, 2012


Fascinating stuff! This quote from the FTSE 100 mentoring programme write-up stood out:
When program director Peninah Thomson [...] looked at the work that was being done around women on boards, all she saw was work being done on the supply side, and that work tended to define women as the problem. According to the accepted wisdom, they were the biggest obstacle to their own career progression and in being appointed to boards. Thomson was baffled as to why there was no look at the demand side—why male CEOs and chairmen were not appointing women executive directors or nonexecutive directors (3.7% and 11.8% of the total number of directors, respectively, in 2003) to their boards.
I'd quote more but the PDF doesn't seem to allow copy-paste (retyped the quote above, ouf!), so here's a summary: Thomson then created the FTSE programme for matching mentors with promising women. Of the 39 women who completed the programme and another 35 still in it, "15 have been appointed to the executive committee or main board of their own FTSE company," another 23 were given other promotions, and "three women have been named as chief executive of a FTSE 250 or other company." Great to see concrete results that are so positive.

I do kind of wish they had gone more to another root of the problem, in that case study as well as others — there's an awful lot hidden behind the bafflement "as to why there was no look at the demand side", for instance. It could have been helpful to have a companion program that worked with executives on their assumptions and teaching them how to... it seems so simple... ask women questions about what they truly want. (It seems they already did that with men, is why I specify "ask women" there. In any case, learning how to set aside assumptions and approach people as individuals is a win for everyone.) Getting women more sponsors is great, and does address many issues, but more needs to be done about changing perceptions too. Great post, thanks!
posted by fraula at 3:53 AM on September 20, 2012 [4 favorites]


Interesting sponsors to have for a study on this "sponsor effect." It would seem they are doing sponsorship all wrong.

That's probably why they sponsored the study...?
posted by downing street memo at 4:00 AM on September 20, 2012 [4 favorites]


Meanwhile, in Europe...
posted by tapeguy at 4:03 AM on September 20, 2012


Isn't simpler to suppose that we just haven't had enough time pass? Women in management wasn't really a thing until the 70s, which was only 40 years ago. Good ol' boys clubs consist not just of boys, but of OLD boys. I would expect the number of women in upper management today to be proportional to the number of women in lower management 40 years ago. Which is to say, slim to none.

Which isn't to say nothing should be done. But we need to look at slopes, not points.
posted by DU at 4:33 AM on September 20, 2012 [3 favorites]


From tapeguys link, about my native Norway:
Norway, which is not an EU member, is the most prominent example of the use of gender quotas. In 2006 it announced penalties for public companies with fewer than 40 percent women on their boards. Currently women occupy 42 percent of board positions in Norway.
So far this seems to work quite well. Here is a fact sheet in English from the Norwegian Ministry of Trade and Industry.
posted by Harald74 at 4:34 AM on September 20, 2012 [1 favorite]


A bit more on affirmative action here up north: According to this article (only in Norwegian, sorry. but the automatic translation is not half bad), as the last date for compliance neared in 2005, the prime minister stated that the penalty for non-compliance would not be economic sanctions, but dissolution of the offending company. Which quite nicely speeded things up...

The article quotes analysis from a doctoral thesis on the new law, which states that the stock market responded rather favourably to the changes, contrary to many expectations. Many boards now got externally recruited members (hey, those women had to come from somewhere, right?), which for many of them was a good thing, according to the market.
posted by Harald74 at 4:52 AM on September 20, 2012 [2 favorites]


I guess "sponsorship" is just the positive way to put the same concept that "good ol' boys club" is the negative way of expressing.
posted by DU at 5:02 AM on September 20, 2012 [14 favorites]


Some people might take exception to this thought (which is fine because I'm not certain that I endorse it), but it might be worth considering:

Women who are cut to be the CEO of a Fortune 500 company might be much rarer than men who are. Successful corporate leaders tend to be bright-burning, selfish, borderline sociopathic assholes who don't care about consequences beyond furthering their agendas. Most of those people are men.

I think you might as well ask "Why aren't there more female serial killers?" or "Why wasn't Genghis Khan a woman?"

Feel free to pillory me if this is sexist, but it seems like the elephant in the room.
posted by Mayor Curley at 5:09 AM on September 20, 2012 [9 favorites]


"Why wasn't Genghis Khan a woman?"

Well, Margaret Thatcher is (so they say).
posted by Skeptic at 5:12 AM on September 20, 2012 [3 favorites]


Feel free to pillory me if this is sexist, but it seems like the elephant in the room.

No, that would be the elephant named "read TFA", which contains numerous case studies of companies that implemented sponsorship programmes that resulted, immediately, in vastly increased numbers of women who were promoted.

I do agree that power by, of, and for itself is problematic, but again, reading TFA, they deal with that as well, noting that the majority of women see leadership as a route to relationships that are mutually beneficial, with power being one of the last value points. (It's the first for men, according to their stats.)
posted by fraula at 5:18 AM on September 20, 2012 [4 favorites]


Lets not focus on the number of woman on boards - it's missing the forest for the trees. The article itself is actually far more interesting and speaks to why there aren't enough strong female candidates for c-suite level jobs and the ones there are have a harder time making the leap into those roles.

I have no idea how to solve the problem. Forcing some sort of top down "x% of your execs in all roles must be woman" appears to be a terrible idea, but at the same time maybe it seeds enough woman in high levels that it becomes easier for woman to find sponsors and mentors? Some near-term issues for longer-term success. Of course the other problem is that Woman tend to end up being focused in areas of a business that are not the paths to being CEO. Female HR Heads probably out number Female COOs and CFOs combined 5:1.
posted by JPD at 5:29 AM on September 20, 2012


It's also worth noting that according to an executive in a small company I spoke with at one point, executive (C-level) positions don't fall under the "you must post this publicly" guidelines of Equal Opportunity laws. So even an "equal opportunity employer" is not required to let anyone know that they are hiring for, say, a COO position, and they can revert to just "hiring from their network"... aka the old-boys club.

In some ways there's not a lot of way around this -- the departure and hiring cycles for senior executives at a large public company are a Big Deal, and posting that a job is open could cause shareholders to panic. So I see why they aren't required to do this. But at the same time, it does very much appear to be perpetuating the problem.
posted by olinerd at 5:33 AM on September 20, 2012


>"Why wasn't Genghis Khan a woman?"
Well, Margaret Thatcher is


But that's what I mean-- Thatcher's record of making pyramids of her enemies' heads is very weak. It's almost like she didn't want the Rus to run in fear of her.

No, that would be the elephant named "read TFA", which contains numerous case studies of companies that implemented sponsorship programmes that resulted, immediately, in vastly increased numbers of women who were promoted.

I did skim TFA, and I think the premise is flawed. So you institute sponsorship, de facto creating a friendship between an executive and someone at the "mazipan layer." Then a position opens, and, no shit, the executive recommends this person that they've befriended-- as was implicit in the program that artificially created this friendship in the first place.

People promote their friends? No shit. Is this going to result in more women in the absolute highest levels (CEOs, CFOs?). A couple, but I think in most cases, if the company's going to promote internally, those positions will go to a male colleague who's demonstrated that if he has to chose between raising profits or not poisoning a third-world city, will absolutely go for the profits.
posted by Mayor Curley at 5:34 AM on September 20, 2012 [1 favorite]


Isn't simpler to suppose that we just haven't had enough time pass? Women in management wasn't really a thing until the 70s, which was only 40 years ago. Good ol' boys clubs consist not just of boys, but of OLD boys. I would expect the number of women in upper management today to be proportional to the number of women in lower management 40 years ago. Which is to say, slim to none.

I'd add that a person would need X years of work experience to qualify for C level positions in large companies (not a startup or some such) and thus, they would have begun their careers in the 80s/90s.

Although, Harald's example of Norway shows that there are women candidates which can be found, if the incentives are 'strong' enough.
posted by infini at 5:35 AM on September 20, 2012


Harald's example of Norway shows that there are women candidates which can be found, if the incentives are 'strong' enough.

I'm not really sure that is so true.

Norway has not so great corporate governance, weak boards, lots of insider dealing. Don't let how amazing Norges is distract you. Not to mention a quick look through of who those board members are will disproportionately show employee reps, inside directors, and members of the controlling families.

Having said that, I think it has helped pull more woman in the c-suite. Its much more common to run across a female CFO for a company on the Oslo Bors than it is in other parts of the world. So yeah, its done what it has supposed to do, but I don't think shows that there are enough good female candidates.
posted by JPD at 5:52 AM on September 20, 2012 [1 favorite]


Isn't simpler to suppose that we just haven't had enough time pass?

This sort of "tide of history" hypothesis might be true in a sense but its perspective is too broad to be useful to those who are actually trying to turn that tide. Societal systems don't change on their own, no matter how much time is allowed to pass. They change because generations of committed people continually pour effort into changing them. If we don't critically examine the problem of gender imbalance in executive positions, that imbalance will be corrected more slowly or not at all.

Simply sitting back and letting time pass is alright for some, but these things don't just happen as a natural progression. History isn't a force, it's the result of the collective actions of people working in the present.
posted by Scientist at 5:57 AM on September 20, 2012 [7 favorites]


My dad was one of the first senior level mentors at the large global oil company where he works when they introduced a scheme similar to this 10 years ago. Don't underestimate the importance of having someone who can help you get the juicy assignments that build a killer CV. He's retired now and still puts time into connecting his mentees with the best jobs, and of course when executive search committee s ask for referrals, he already knows these women and can get their names onto the long list. Making it onto those lists is an essential step to getting c-level jobs.
posted by atrazine at 6:06 AM on September 20, 2012 [2 favorites]


So what is the conclusion of this tedious and inane article? That minorities need help playing the game? The only way to win is. to. not. play.
posted by polymodus at 6:16 AM on September 20, 2012


What minority?
posted by Summer at 6:23 AM on September 20, 2012 [4 favorites]


Isn't simpler to suppose that we just haven't had enough time pass?

It has only been since they beginning of humanity after all.
posted by srboisvert at 6:48 AM on September 20, 2012 [1 favorite]


"women not only wanted to be judged by the quality of their work, they were downright miffed at those who were doing the same job but seemed to be moving ahead more quickly. "It seems that some people here are being groomed," observed a junior woman at an investment bank. "One woman in my group is my peer in every way except that she is on some secret fast track that just got her a promotion ahead of schedule. I just don't get it. I think my work is a bit better than hers."

"The women I mentor tell me they're not keen to use their networks because 'it's not fair.' Over and over, that's what they say: it's not fair."

You know, maybe I'm just hopelessly idealistic or something, but aren't they right? The article does a good job of pointing out the ways in which the system operates that aren't being exploited by women - but aren't they still exploitation? Would you not have to give up on these ideas of meritocracy and start acting in the same unfair way to exploit them? There has to be a certain point at which your self-respect and sense of dignity are more important than playing an unfair game. I guess that probably won't get you into a CEO position, but eeesh.

I think using your contacts/network and taking incentive to make sure that things are fair are good points. It's just this tacit acceptance of the situation that bothers me, during the reading I kept imagining some asshole CEO going "HA! These silly broads really thought they'd get somewhere by hard work and personal development!".
posted by nTeleKy at 7:26 AM on September 20, 2012 [4 favorites]


Perhaps I've just hung out with too many autonomous collective social justice types/thought streams- or I'm just a damn socialist. I just want to make sure everyone gets taken care of. I don't think I understand capitalist ethics very well.

When I have read articles about what women should do to advance their careers it just goes straight over my head. Human heirarchies seem perplexing to begin with and eliminating inequality seems more impotant than scrambling over anyone I can prove I'm better than others to get more pay and status. If I need to advance my career because there are pressing quality of life issues that are very important for health and well being and self actualization-- then my concern would be why are people having to scramble to stomp everyone below them out to get the status and pay to have a decent quality of life? Why isn't quality of life for working people not at the top sufficient to have a healthy and enriching life?

And if career advancement is not about having a healthy and enriching quality of life-- it just strikes me as greedy and self obsessed to be focused on having an "Advanced career" that you're looking to win over someone else to obtain, rather than focusing on DOING REALLY AWESOME THINGS FOR HUMAN BEINGS with your career. Can't we all work to make sure everyone has an advancing career in which they have opportunities to cultivate and use their skills to make the world better?

I want to do good things for the world, but taking someone elses job doesn't seem to actually increase the amount of good work being done in the world. If someone else is perfectly willing to do that job then I consider that need filled and I want to find needs that aren't being filled and do work that isn't getting done that would make the world better.

Unfortunately I suppose it would help to understood the drive to earn lot's of money because the highest levels of needs gravitate toward people with money to pay to fill them.
posted by xarnop at 7:33 AM on September 20, 2012 [2 favorites]


(*with out*)
posted by xarnop at 7:35 AM on September 20, 2012


Would you not have to give up on these ideas of meritocracy and start acting in the same unfair way to exploit them?

Does anyone actually believe all that meritocracy nonsense? The very word was coined as a pejorative.
posted by atrazine at 9:11 AM on September 20, 2012 [2 favorites]


I guess "sponsorship" is just the positive way to put the same concept that "good ol' boys club" is the negative way of expressing.

The argument seems to be "Networking is inevitable. So let's try to network fairly."

And I can buy that. I don't think we're ever going to create a situation where a board is as likely to hire a perfect stranger as they are to hire someone they've all known and spent time with before. It's normal to care about relationships and trust, and I don't think we can force people to overlook that stuff.

What we can do is say "Look, you'd better make sure you're giving people of all races, sexes, creeds, etc the same chance to build a relationship and earn your trust."

Basically I guess I'm saying I'm okay with living in a world where you've gotta golf with the boss to get promoted -- so long as the boss is okay with living in a world where half his golf buddies are women and a quarter are black and ten percent are gay and....
posted by nebulawindphone at 10:37 AM on September 20, 2012 [3 favorites]


Does anyone actually believe all that meritocracy nonsense? The very word was coined as a pejorative.

I did not know that, I'm pretty sure I just saw it in the paper and used it poorly. I've actually been idly considering this since this morning, trying to put a finger on what it was that was bothering me. I actually found a good article by the man who coined the term, "Down With Meritocracy". There's one excerpt that speaks quite well to my feelings:

"The business meritocracy is in vogue. If meritocrats believe, as more and more of them are encouraged to, that their advancement comes from their own merits, they can feel they deserve whatever they can get.

They can be insufferably smug, much more so than the people who knew they had achieved advancement not on their own merit but because they were, as somebody's son or daughter, the beneficiaries of nepotism. The newcomers can actually believe they have morality on their side."


This writing strikes me as coming from the viewpoint of those "who knew they had achieved advancement not on their own merit, but because they were [...] benefits of nepotism". Only in this case, it's not just nepotism, but benefits of a corporate structure that favors certain behavior that has little to do with job performance.

I've known since I started working that employment and wages aren't based on the amount of work people do, their talent or their effort. I still don't like it. I don't like that talented and capable people are overlooked for reasons of race, gender, personality or economic status. I don't like that our system is set up on the illusion that going to college, working hard, and whatever will get you a job based on the effort you put in when it clearly won't.

I think what was bothering me was that this is exactly what the article was saying, plainly, clearly, and accurately. It initially struck me as as a defense of the existing system, but on reconsideration, it's actually quite ethically neutral. If more women want to get into positions like that, this is exactly what's needed - a description of how the system currently works and how to work with it to get where you believe you should be. That's a lot more fair than keeping the information secreted away to small groups of rich old men, in any case.
posted by nTeleKy at 11:51 AM on September 20, 2012 [1 favorite]


Perhaps ladies just find it harder to be so heartless.
posted by Twang at 1:34 PM on September 20, 2012


Visible networking requirements are much, much fairer than invisible ones. Sponsorship programs, where it's clear how the executive-track works, seem like a very good idea. But you also have to be really clear at the earlier levels, too, that networking and collegiality are an important and intrinsic part of corporate leadership.

I don't understand why this seems like cheating, or unfairness, or heartlessness. Businesses, firms, universities -- these are social structures. Socializing is an important part of maintaining healthy social structures. Being likable, even, is an important part of being a good leader. I mean, if I do have two equally well suited candidates for a job, but one is more likable, why would I *not* pick the more likable one? Actually, isn't the more likable one better suited?

The problem lies and has always lain in controlling for factors that do (but shouldn't) contribute to someone's "likability" that are not under control by that person. Their ethnicity, perhaps, or their religion, or their gender/gender identity, or sexual orientation. (Right? Because racists and misogynists and homophobes? Bigotry?) If you make socializing, networking, collegiality, and mentorship all an explicit part of the corporate institution, with something like this sponsorship program, just maybe you can reveal where the bigots are hiding. How long can they keep hiding being bigoted if they have to interact with Those People?

this over-qualified post brought to you by the letters "trying to make sure it's obvious that I bigotry is bad"
posted by Made of Star Stuff at 1:50 PM on September 20, 2012 [2 favorites]



Visible networking requirements are much, much fairer than invisible ones.


I agree. We talk about this a lot in my household, because one of us (hi!) is a tall white guy and one of us isn't, and we like to theorize and strategize about these things. It's fascinating (read: deeply angering) how "organic" networking tends to land in my lap -- "Hey, let's grab a drink after this meeting" -- and does not for my partner. She's smarter and a lot more fun to hang out with than I am, and you'd think she'd get those offers more than me, but just like the article describes, she gets to watch male colleagues get the organic opportunities while she has to find work-arounds.

The issues the article brings up are very, very real, outside the business world as well as within it; I wish there was more programs like this and more consciousness of the ways in which the invisible networking and socializing functions. Making it transparent and open should help, and will help anyone who doesn't fit in to the existing power structure for whatever reason (color, sexuality, gender identity, whatever).
posted by Forktine at 6:11 PM on September 20, 2012 [4 favorites]


It can be done. Its very very hard and the barriers are higher to non women, but I think other elements are a higher barrier than gender per se. I don't have enough data to say for sure but I wonder what would be the upward mobility in the corporatocracy if seeing stats for the gender split of performance against clustering by ethic similarities to the existing power structure.

This is not a racial thing. Each culture has their own power networks and outsiders are harder to sponsor within ones own home culture. It makes sense that they need to be outstanding.

Imo its easier to transfer across class lines and educational networks, than country.
posted by infini at 12:02 AM on September 22, 2012


Transfer sponsorship.

Highly trusted references are nothing new, going back to Marco Polo and the Phoenicians.
posted by infini at 12:04 AM on September 22, 2012


They had an article in the Singapore issue of Cosmopolitan magazine on how to use "LinkedIn'", imagine teh ease of use of "shared connections" in assessing and establishing guanxi?
posted by infini at 12:05 AM on September 22, 2012


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