Money & Business

Sponsors Can Propel Multicultural Workers to Leadership, Study Says

By / Oct 15, 2012 (TMG archive photo)

New research released today from the Center for Talent Innovation shows the critical need for minority sponsorship in corporate America.

Multicultural workers are not reaching the upper ranks of corporate leadership, says a new study by the Center for Talent Innovation.

If you’re hanging back, if you’re insecure, if you’re not sure how to fit in, then you’re not being noticed, you’re not able to stick your neck out.

What this group is missing is sponsorship, or what the study defines as “‘door-opening relationships’—powerful links to senior executives willing to put their reputation on the line to promote their protégés all the way to the top.”

“Hispanic, Asian-American, and African-American employees are not reaching the pinnacle of corporate leadership even though they’re ambitious, well qualified, and have the credentials to do that,” said Maggie Jackson, one of the study’s authors and a vice president and senior fellow at the Center for Talent Innovation. “They’re stuck in the lower executive levels, and our research shows that sponsorship is an incredibly powerful booster rocket for talented people of color.”

According to “Sponsor Effect: Multicultural Talent”, minorities make up more than a third of the U.S. population but hold less than 13 percent of board seats at Fortune 500 companies.

The study also notes that 35 percent of African-Americans and Hispanics and almost half of Asian-Americans feel they need to compromise their “authenticity” in the workplace, which can lead to feelings of discomfort and invisibility.

“If you’re hanging back, if you’re insecure, if you’re not sure how to fit in, then you’re not being noticed, you’re not able to stick your neck out” Jackson said. “These are some of the issues that cloud minority chances of catching the eye of a sponsor.”

Another hindrance to sponsorship of multicultural employees is the risk involved, including for those doing the sponsoring.

“They’re hesitant because minority sponsors—minority top executives—also aren’t quite sure of where they stand in the pecking order,” Jackson said. “Everything feels more risky. They feel as though they are under more scrutiny, and they’re also very, very sensitive about favoritism. You’re backing someone, and if they stumble or fail, it might tarnish your reputation.”

But the statistics paint a telling picture of the benefits of sponsorship. Almost 80 percent of African-Americans with a sponsor are satisfied with their rate of advancement, compared to 41 percent without a sponsor; 90 percent of Asian-Americans with a sponsor are happy with their rate of advancement compared to half without one. The study also noted that 60 percent of people of color with a sponsor are less likely to quit within a year than those without such support.

“This study can help bring very hidden issues to the table,” Jackson said. “As we all know, explicit bias may not be as widespread, but implicit bias—stereotyping, exclusionary behaviors—are still common in the American workplace. So if this report helps open up the discussion and get people talking, that’s a great step forward.”

Katie Bascuas

Katie Bascuas is associate editor of Associations Now. More »

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