relationship plays in the corporate workplace. CTI discovered that
having a sponsor among senior executives drives ambition, engage-ment
and retention, particularly for employees of colour.
Yet, sponsorship is rare in Canada – starkly so when compared
with the U.S. and the U.K. According to a survey conducted by
CTI of full-time white-collar employees in Canada, only four per
cent of white women and three per cent of people of colour have
sponsors. By contrast, 13 per cent of women and eight per cent of
people of colour in the U.S., and 16 per cent of women in the U.K.
As a nascent concept in Canada that has much room left to
grow, sponsorship can be used not only as a lever to leadership for
people of colour and women, but also as an effective antidote to
unconscious bias and entrenched leadership norms that prevent
these groups from ascending the corporate ladder.
White male executives – who comprise the majority of senior
executive positions – tend to sponsor people who look like them.
Nearly three-quarters of men in senior management positions in
Canada say that at least one of the people they sponsor is male.
Similarly, two-thirds of white executives in senior management
positions say at least one of the people they sponsor is white.
These numbers show that Canada’s senior executives have to
do a better job advocating for employees across lines of difference.
When such sponsorship does occur, it frequently opens doors for
women and people of colour.
Krystal Abotossaway benefited from such a relationship at the
Royal Bank of Canada (RBC). Although she wasn’t considering
entering the finance industry, she won a scholarship for Indigenous
students offered by RBC that paved the way toward a summer job
at the bank. After a few jobs at the bank, each more senior than the
last, she met a woman who became her sponsor – someone who
was not Indigenous but was interested in the culture and com-munity.
The sponsor’s coaching and connections helped launch
Abotossaway’s career, which has moved on from RBC to another
bank where she is a strategic sourcing partner for Indigenous pro-fessionals
and people of colour.
Some Canadian companies are becoming aware of the critical
role sponsorship plays in retention and are putting initiatives in
place to encourage sponsor-protégé relationships.
A few years ago, law firm McInnes Cooper launched a pilot
program asking influential partners to sponsor high-performing
female lawyers after briefing them on the difficulties of retaining
female lawyers and ensuring they understood the enormous costs
associated with turnover.
At the end of the program, protégés described the benefits
of having a sponsor, among them were being connected to new
opportunities, having more face-time with clients and grow-ing
their networks. As a result of the project, McInnes Cooper
resolved to make sponsorship an integral part of the firm’s culture
by instituting a formal sponsorship program that would include
other underrepresented groups as well as women.
By making a bold commitment to diversity, companies like
McInnes Cooper – not to mention the government – enshrine
Canadian values like progress and tolerance. But the work of
diversity and inclusion are not just rooted in idealism. As of a few
years ago, Canada had the highest proportion of foreign-born citi-zens
among G8 nations. With the rapidly changing demographics
of Canadian society, getting good at inclusion and diversity means
catching up to labour market realities.
Canadian companies can – and must – do a better job of retain-ing
and appointing women, people of colour and Indigenous
peoples among their senior ranks. Leveraging the benefits of spon-sorship
is imperative to reaching this goal. n
Laura Sherbin is co-president at the Center for Talent Innovation
and a managing partner at Hewlett Consulting Partners.
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PEOPLE OF COLOUR
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44 ❚ AUGUST 2018 ❚ HR PROFESSIONAL