Despite women comprising 50% of the hospitality sector's workforce, serious disparities still exist in advancement of women to leadership positions. [1] Separately, a 2022 report by the Castell Project indicates that black executives represent only 2% of executives in the hospitality industry. [2] To close this gender and representation gap, hotel sector players can create a pipeline of diverse leaders by putting in place a career sponsorship program. When intentionally aimed at advancing women and other underrepresented groups, a career sponsor can broaden the diversity of executive teams, which, in turn, can improve the performance of your company. 

According to McKinsey, businesses with more ethnically, culturally, and gender-diverse leadership teams perform more profitably than the industry average. In this article, you’ll find out what career sponsorship entails, and how sponsorship differs from mentorship. We also describe the role and benefits of career sponsors, and review 6 best practices for running an effective sponsorship program in the tourism and hotel sector.


What Is Career Sponsorship?

Career sponsorship is the intentional use of one's own power, reputation, networks, and connections in order to advance career goals and open doors for others. Career sponsorship is critical because career development is an ongoing process. Missed opportunities and closed doors can stifle potential careers and cause a chain reaction of even more missed opportunities.

Career sponsorship is particularly crucial for women, people of colour, and historically marginalised communities (HMCs). According to a study by the Center for Talent Innovation, 85% of women and 81% of multicultural employees require navigational support to get ahead in their careers, but receive less compared to other professionals.

This type of sponsorship can take many forms, from informal arrangements to formal organisational programs. Effective sponsorship in any form depends on building a relationship, shared commitment, strong communication, and trust. Both parties must also be able to offer and receive constructive feedback.


What's the Difference Between Mentorship and Sponsorship? 

Both mentorship and sponsorship revolve around a professional interaction, typically between a senior leader and a mentee who is less established in their career. Mentoring and sponsorship can help create strong, people-first cultures by addressing inclusivity and diversity, succession planning, and the professional development of high potential individuals. Despite these similarities, mentorship and sponsorship have certain differences.

Typically, mentoring is an interaction in which an experienced employee moulds and guides a younger employee. Mentors can act as a sounding board for mentees to provide guidance, offer advice, or simply serve as a role model for mentees to follow.

Unlike mentorships, sponsors help advance careers in a far more proactive manner. A sponsor is a career champion who openly and covertly supports their high potential protégé, for instance, by recommending them for opportunities or assisting them in developing connections with influential people. By becoming an advocate for an employee, sponsors essentially put their reputation on the line.


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Roles and Responsibilities of a Career Sponsor

A sponsor plays several roles in the career of a sponsored employee. An article published by the Harvard Business Review outlines the key responsibilities of a career sponsor as amplifying, boosting connecting and defending their protégé. The specific duties are explained below:

  • Amplifying: Career sponsors amplify the best qualities of their proteges in order to establish or reinforce favourable perceptions in their circles of influence.
  • Boosting: Sponsors boost their proteges' career success by underwriting or staking their credibility on the protégé's future prospects.
  • Connecting: When a career sponsor connects a protégé, they are essentially transferring their goodwill from themselves to the protégé, thereby improving how others view the protégé. Connecting can be viewed as impression management that helps a protégé claim the good image of the sponsors as their own.
  • Defending: A career sponsor defends their protégé by shifting people's negative opinions of them into positive ones. Defending enables a protégé to shift perspectives with an audience that was previously sceptical or dismissive of their potential.


Benefits of Career Sponsorship Programs in the Hotel Industry

Career sponsorships are beneficial to all parties involved, i.e., the sponsors, the sponsored employees, and the workplace. A protégé's career advancement benefits the sponsor because it enhances their own reputation. In turn, a sponsor's initiatives can accelerate a career through promotions and raises.

For women, people of colour, and HMCs, sponsorship can be a game-changer because of the prejudiced manner in which they are evaluated. Sponsorship can help address gender equality concerns and under-representation of women of colour at senior levels of hotel management.

Workplaces with effective sponsorship programs can also benefit from improved diversity equity and inclusion, gender equality, higher employee morale and productivity. A hotel/restaurant with a working DEI program is likely to have a broader customer base, which can lead to higher revenues and profitability. These workplaces are also more likely to attract and retain talent because of the positive employer brand in the job market.

The travel and leisure sector can reap great benefits of running a sponsorship program. For a sector that has struggled to fill hospitality jobs, sponsorship can help the hotel sector identify and capture talent. Internally sponsored employees can be recommended to take up higher responsibilities and save the hotel sector the time and cost of off-street hospitality recruitment. 


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Best Practices for Effective Sponsorship in the Workplace

1. Define the Goals of the Sponsorship Program

Ask yourself what you intend your sponsorship program to achieve. If you have an informal sponsorship program in place, you may consider formalising it. If you don't have such a program, you can develop one from scratch. Besides defining goals, it's also important to determine how you will measure the success of the program year-on-year. Key metrics you can track include retention and promotion rates, and the lateral movement of key employee segments, such as women of colour and historically marginalised communities.

2. Map Current Situation

It's probable that there is some degree of sponsorship already taking place in your business. Get a clear understanding of how the informal sponsorship is being undertaken, by whom, and identify the program's strengths and weaknesses. Examine who the program's primary beneficiaries are, and collect any evidence of progress or lack thereof at critical transition points. Mapping the current situation enables you to spotlight ineffective practices such as favouritism and program inconsistencies that may derail the success of the program.

3. Set Expectations and Accountability Standards

An efficient sponsorship program requires a clear delineation of the sponsor's responsibilities. A successful program should explain what it actually means to be a sponsor and hold leaders accountable for their obligations. Make it clear to sponsors that their most important role is to identify and create pathways for women and underrepresented people and help them elevate their career. Make sponsorship part of employee development programs such as leadership training, mentorship, and unconscious bias training. Introduce transparent mechanisms for distributing sponsorship opportunities and establish a system to reward outstanding sponsors.

4. Get Leadership Buy-in

The entire leadership team needs to support sponsorship programs. It is critical for business and departmental leaders to act as role models for what a successful sponsor looks and acts like. Essentially, the business must purposefully create the environment for sponsorship to flourish.

5. Incorporate Program into Company Culture

Make sponsorship part and parcel of the company culture. For instance, acknowledge and celebrate sponsor and protege achievements. Ensure social activities are accessible to a broad section of employees, such as by organising these activities during working hours. Provide opportunities where sponsors and proteges can share their experiences, knowledge, and best practices.

6. Monitor and Review the Program

Once your career sponsorship program is in place, it is crucial to regularly evaluate its effectiveness in relation to the pre-set metrics and to continue offering support to all parties involved. Collect and analyse program data to find out how the program is progressing, including identifying any existing gaps. Renew your commitment to the program at each review by allocating resources, providing additional training, and tracking your accountability.


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[1]  A call to move gender diversity from female fight to industry fight,

[2] Black Representation in Hospitality Industry Leadership, Castel Project 2022