Could Sponsorship Be a Mistake for Women?

While everyone may be talking about sponsorship as the magic bullet to get women promoted, our three-month phone survey proved something else.  In fact, we discovered that sponsorship may in fact be a mistake for women who are intent on advancing their career. We found out that women can actually be more successful when they use their own influence in the workplace, rather than wait to be sponsored by more senior colleagues.

Here are top-line results from over 100 phone interviews with senior managers overseeing Human Resources, Executive Recruitment and Talent Retention at Fortune 500 companies, and the seven point plan that emerged:

For immediate release


NEW YORK April 16, 2012 – Women need to rely on their own influence in the workplace for advancement, not on being sponsored by more senior colleagues, according to in-depth telephone executive interviews with over 100 senior managers overseeing human resources, executive recruitment and talent retention at Fortune 500 companies. “Although ‘sponsorship’ is the current buzzword in professional women’s circles, it’s only those women who first establish their own credibility and ambition who can hope to attain significant success and attract a sponsor,” said Amy Dorn Kopelan, President of Bedlam Productions Inc., which specializes in C-suite summits and leadership programs for executive women.  “Especially today when so many senior roles are changing or being eliminated, it is a downright mistake to put all your eggs in one basket,” she adds.

Kopelan conducted interviews with top Fortune 500 executives in order to get their perspective on the best way for women to distinguish themselves and move up the ranks, including into the C-suite. “What I heard repeatedly was that being sponsored is no magic bullet,” said Kopelan. “In fact, women who rely on the air cover of sponsorship will fail by not taking action to establish influence on their own.”

What emerged from the interviews is a 7-step plan for women to drive their own success:

  • Write your own business plan.  The majority of executives surveyed recommended that women write their own personal business plans – and be sure to include the career boosters they will need to succeed.  At the top of that list are cross-functional experience, customized coaching and assignments where they can substantially affect the bottom line.
  • Reframe the performance evaluation.  The corporate mindset critiques women’s behavior more than their accomplishments.  To change that paradigm, women must establish ground rules of parity early in their career and insist on them as they advance.  Eight out of ten experts said that women need to step out of their comfort zone and insist on feedback about their business acumen, not their behavior.
  • Position yourself for the role that is not yet there.  Women must not only own their own career, they must direct it. Women must identify what they want next and not wait for the right job to find them.  According to one study participant, “The best people land the position before it becomes available, so make sure you are in the right conversations.”
  • It takes a village, not one sponsor.  75% believe women must be proactive in making themselves visible. Women need to seek out multiple influential leaders who can help them raise their own visibility throughout the organization, and seize opportunities to showcase their own talents.
  • Look big/think big. According to seven out of ten, leadership presence and confidence are essential. Women need to take care how they look and act. Participants in the study suggested emulating those who do it well.  As one respondent said, “Fake it until you make it.”
  • Be observant. 42% said that to gain influence women need to align themselves with people who already have influence and discernible “star power.”  Women should watch who gets “listened to” and who has influence in their organization.
  • Go for it.  90% agree that successful executives do not hesitate or disqualify themselves when they hear about a job opportunity. Women too often take themselves out of the running because they think they’re not credentialed while men don’t think twice about grabbing the brass ring. To get promoted, women must have the courage to throw the door open and not hold back.

 “Women have more opportunities for advancement than ever before, especially if they understand the power of influence and how to wield it,” said Kopelan. “Then they won’t just know the movers and shakers, they will become one.”

Bedlam Productions Inc. ( is a leading producer of women’s C-suite summits and leadership programs.  Based in New York, the company creates global CEO summits, corporate leadership programs and offers private coaching for executives. Bedlam’s summits focus on critical global trends that are reshaping business and leadership. The leadership programs focus on executive presence, personal branding and performance. Bedlam’s Executive Studio program provides private and semi-private standing-ovation performance coaching.

CONTACT:  Amy Dorn Kopelan, President, Bedlam Productions Inc. 212-580-5100

Categories: Leadership, Leadership Presence, Sponsorship


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2 Comments on “Could Sponsorship Be a Mistake for Women?”

  1. May 19, 2012 at 10:34 am #

    This post provides an incredible amount of info for women who want to scale the corporate ladder. What’s most insightful is that is applies to the new work environment where people are working harder with less resources and expected to produce more. The transition of moving from a sponsor to the “village” is key – I for one will be working on my own personal business plan and look for more opportunities to create leadership presence.

    • May 21, 2012 at 8:22 pm #

      Good for you! Your personal business plan should be updated and edited frequently as you see opportunities shift or doors open as a result of your decisions and connections. As often as you can, get in front of more audiences. You have great presence in front of educational audiences. Take the risk to go to a bigger place with it.

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