How to get a piece of the PIE: Why you need more than CAKE to get to the C-Suite by Natalie Richardson

Automatic Summary

Mentors vs Sponsors: Getting Your Slice of Leadership Pie in Tech

Hello there, I am Natalie Richardson, the Head of Client Delivery at Inkling, an organization with the mission to create a more inclusive, more equitable world. Today, I’d like to explore how we can enhance female representation in the tech sector's C Suite. Despite accounting for 47% of the tech workforce, only 15% of executive leadership positions are held by women. Together, let's delve into why this is and how we can transform it.

The Problem: A Lack of Representation

The problem isn’t women, it’s the structures and narratives within organizations that create career roadblocks for them. Sometimes, these hurdle's aren’t intentional but are rather products of unconscious biases and lack of role models in senior leadership positions. It makes the path to upper-level management meets challenging, complex, and sometimes utterly confusing for women in tech.

Ironically, even though women are majorly underrepresented in tech leadership, an overwhelming majority of mentorship programs are represented by women, but unfortunately, these programs aren't yielding the expected results.

The Solution: Trading Cake for A Piece of the Pie

So, if mentorship isn’t working, then what will? The answer is: sponsorship.

Just to clarify, mentorship and sponsorship are different. Research shows employees with sponsors are 23% more likely to get a promotion. But here’s the catch - underrepresented groups, including women, are less likely to be sponsored. On the other hand, dominant groups get sponsored more often and by more people. In fact, men are 46% more likely to have a sponsor than women.

The Importance of Sponsorship

Sponsorship can make a real difference in breaking through unconscious bias, upsetting the status quo, and boosting confidence, resilience, and aspiration—particularly for women in tech. Female tech newbies initially plan to be promoted as eagerly as their male counterparts. However, over the first two years in the profession, the aspiration of these bright female graduates starts to fade, while it remains steady in their male peers.

How Sponsorship Can Expedite Career Progression

Contrary to popular belief, sponsorship is not similar to mentoring. A mentor's role is more private, involving casual catch-ups, career advice, personal development discussions— while sponsorship is more public, advocating for one's mentee to participate in high-value projects, pushing them out into the limelight, advocating for their promotions.

  • Performance of the business - A sponsor helps you understand attainable business outcomes and development of a broader business strategy.
  • Influence - A sponsor can enhance your image, help you develop an authentic leadership presence, and guide on how to present oneself to have the desired impact.
  • Exposure - A sponsor can potentially reveal opportunities for you to showcase your talent, credibility, and contribute to other areas of the business—all of which can significantly enhance your career progression.

Wrapping Up

With the right strategic move and plentiful networking, getting a slice of leadership pie is possible. A formal sponsorship program, aimed at underrepresented groups, can be a booster shot to the corporate race, playing a massive role in increasing the diversity and profitability of organizations.

In this ever-evolving industry, let’s take a stand, learn more about the business, effectively influence one’s image, and get the exposure we need with the right sponsorship. Let's trade the cake for a piece of the leadership pie. After all, what's a pie without a slice for everyone?

Video Transcription

Well, welcome everybody. Um Really pleased to see you here for our talk today on how to get a piece of a pie and why cake doesn't get us to the C Suite?Um Oh, my name is Natalie Richardson and I am super excited to be here and, and talking with you today um as the head of client delivery here at Inkling and our purpose at Inkling is really to elevate humanity. We exist to create a fairer world for everybody where every single person can thrive. And I think this is super important when we start to talk about women in tech. You know, we've worked with over 20,000 leaders in 13 different countries and our sweet spot is applying the latest psychological and behavioral research and science to create more inclusive workplaces that really unleash human potential. And if we think about this, it is so so important today more than ever as we look at how do we increase leadership and move more women into that C suite and into the executive space, uh especially in tech because you know, it's interesting women make up 47% of the US tech workforce and I'm curious, you know, what do you think the, the percentages that they hold in leadership came to hear from you?

Yeah, if you said round about 15% you would be correct. Now, that's incredible when you think about it, 47% of the workforce and yet only 15% of executive leadership positions are held by women. And you've got to wonder why is it that so many of us are mired in the middle? And what is it that we really need to do to take them to the top? And I think the key thing here is the problem isn't with women. You know, it's actually about the structures and the narratives that exist in organizations that are creating barriers and, you know, blocking career paths. And this is not necessarily intentional, but it's just the way that the the systems have been operating till now, you know, things from unconscious bias to the lack of female role models in senior leadership positions. You know, for women in tech, the path to the C Suite, it's confusing at times, you know, it's complex. Who do I connect with? How do I do this? And if I don't see people like me at the top, how do I navigate this type of challenging situation? And it's funny because even though there is only a small percentage of women at the top in tech, we are largely overrepresented in mentoring programs. So when you look at mentoring programs. There are a lot more women than men in there. And yet these aren't working for us.

They're not getting the cut through that we expected and that we hoped for. And so what I really want to do in our time together is start to say, well, how do we really elevate our women? So, a couple of things to help us think about this is about moving from mentoring to genuine sponsorship and lots of the time people go. Hm. That's really interesting, aren't they the same thing? But there are some differences and some really crucial differences. You know, what we find is that employees with a sponsor are much more likely to get a promotion 23% more. In fact. And so when you think about that, you go, well, that's really easy. Let's just sponsor more women. That'll solve the problem. If only it was that easy, what the research tells us is that underrepresented groups and women are underrepresented in that leadership space in tech are much less likely to be sponsored. In fact, people in the dominant groups get sponsored more often and often by more people, men are 46% more likely to have a sponsor than women. So it makes sense that they're the ones that are getting into the C Suite because they're the ones that have access to those leaders to be able to influence them, to be able to show their competence, to be able to show their thinking.

And so when we think about this, it's those sponsored people that become the leaders of the future. And what we found in our work is that sponsoring people from diverse groups really makes a difference in cutting through that unconscious bias. It disrupts the status quo and it increases confidence, resilience. And also aspiration and aspirations are really big, big important thing for women in tech because when women enter tech, their first two years in the workforce, they're super excited. They are as motivated and as goget as their male counterparts. But over those two years, those young bright female graduates start to lose their aspiration, they start to lose their desire to be promoted and yet it stays sta stable in their male counterparts. Now, I don't know where you're joining us from in the world. I know we've got someone from Finland, but I'm from Australia. And in Australia, we have more women graduating from our universities with tech degrees than we currently do men and yet they're losing hope once they join the workforce. So it's key for us to be able to engage them to help them on that leadership journey both early in their career. And then as we start to see that middle management kind of wasteland where so many women get stuck.

We need to be really stepping in to this sponsorship role. And it's interesting because women with sponsors are 22% more likely to ask for stretch assignments and they're 27% more likely to ask for a pay rise than their unsponsored peers. Right. That's huge in untapped potential.

But what we know is that sponsorship done wrong and without skill building and awareness building for the sponsors, actually, this results in mini mes getting hired and getting sponsored. In fact, 70% of sponsorship programs end up perpetuating the problem, uh because people hire for like they sponsor for like. And so it's really important that we educate our sponsors in order to help us help them, help women move through to the C Suite. And if you're ac suite woman joining us here today, it's important for you to also think about how are you sponsoring other women? Because what we tend to do traditionally is on the scale and the spectrum of sponsorship. We with all the good intent in the world, we spend a lot of time mentoring, you know, and if you think about classic mentoring, which is down this lower end of the sponsorship spectrum, it's a much more private relationship. You know, it's the coffee catch up that you have. It's the part where we provide advice, we coach, we support, we talk about your career goals and your development goals. We spend a bit of time saying, well, hey, how is it that you might be able to develop your career?

But it's very much in private and yet when we move to the other end of the sponsorship spectrum, what we start to see is we see a much more public relationship. So when we're truly stepping into sponsorship for others or truly being sponsored, we have somebody that is advocating for us advocating for us to be given stretch assignments, advocating for us to be given promotions, advocating for us to be able to get up and show what we can do, show what projects we can be on.

And so it's really key that we get sponsors much more in this public sphere and not just trying to, you know, support the skills and the confidence building of women. And there's nothing wrong with classic mentoring. It's helpful, you know, often we find that those mentoring relationships are really lovely, they're supportive, they help build resilience, but they're not the thing that are gonna get you to the C suite. You know, if you think about it, think about the mentors that you've had in your life. There's usually a few and they're usually reasonably accessible. We can find mentors in all different places in our organizations, outside our organizations. Uh you know, in different social groups that we're in.

But true sponsorship is a much rarer commodity because it requires somebody with power with privilege and with a willingness to spend that currency and that time with you and for you when you're not in the room. So what we know is mentorship is much more about the cake So it's lovely. Uh mentoring builds confidence. You know, we know that it's the most common type of thing that happens for women is this confidence building often. When we think about development for women, we go, yeah, let's give them some more confidence. And I'm sure many of us have been part of that and it's important, it's important to be able to look at those inner negative voices that hold us back and it's important to be able to put them in their place so that we can speak up so that we can show up. But it's again, not the thing that's gonna get us to the C suite. We also find in classic mentoring, there's a lot about aptitude and attitude and advice, all very, very well meaning looking at, you know, what are your strengths and here's my personal advice on how I've done things and how you might be able to do them.

This is how I dealt with this particular situation or this really difficult stakeholder. Um And this is the stuff that you can learn from me. A K in cake is about connection to resources. And when we talk about this end of the sponsorship spectrum, it's usually resources for your current role. It's connecting you to people that can help you now or potentially help you in your next role. But it doesn't tend to be looking at that bigger picture and the more elevated roles, the more executive roles it, the timelines tend to be much shorter in that connection to resources and then encouragement. You know, again, we love being part of a supportive community. It is so important, especially when we don't see a lot of people like us in the workplace, but it's good to have someone giving you the let's go, you can do it. Uh But again, if it's only being said to you and it's not actually being told to other people, it doesn't help to elevate your reputation and your influence in an organization. So some cake is good, but you don't wanna eat too much of it. What you really want if you want to get to the C suite is pie and P is where we start to talk about performance of the business. This is where we start to look at here are the organizational outcomes that we want.

And here is where the strategy of our business is at. And it's not just about the day to day tactical operational pieces of the business. It's about how is our broader strategy formed. And why is that our strategy? It's understanding what's behind that, not just how to implement it. Although some of that performance may very well be about talking to your spons about, hey, this is how the strategy is being implemented over here in the business. This is how it's being implemented over here and this is how we could be thinking about it in your area of the business and how can you connect those dots? So this performance is really about elevating up out of a functional area or expertise and thinking much more holistically about the business. Now, there's a few ways that you can get this. Uh And if you're asking for some pie, if you're the person looking for that sponsorship, start looking for someone that's really willing to discuss and explore the strategy with you. Uh someone who potentially will sit down with strategic reports and talk you through them. And what does that really mean uh for our business and for our future, you know, remembering that strategy is often a longer term timeline than just the next QBR. And so this is really really key.

I think the other thing that is really important in pie is talking about influence. So how can your sponsor help you influence your image or if you are a sponsor, how do you help your sponsor develop genuine leadership presence? And this presence can be by showing up to meetings, giving people that opportunity to present at senior stakeholder management meetings or really important moments in time. It's about helping your spons present and speak the language of the business in a way that is both authentic to them, but also gains cut through and is understood by others. And so this influencing of image can be really key. We know that people rally to leaders that have really strong presence and sometimes getting feedback on how you're coming across can be the most helpful thing, but often we don't get it. People feel uncomfortable about talking about how we present uh or, or giving us that type of feedback. So when we look at it through that lens of, hey, I'm really trying to influence my image here, we can get some really valuable feedback and think about where in the business you're also being seen, which brings us to our final piece of the pie, which is all about exposure and exposure is really starting to look at.

Where can I show up in a way that is going to give me credibility, that is going to give me the opportunity to see different things, but also to contribute to different things. It's about those really great projects that come up that can be seen and can have a huge impact on the business. It can also be about not just the internal networks, but starting to think about the external networks. If we think about really good sponsors, they're willing to introduce you to their thought leaders, their influences the people that they even turn to for advice because they know that that type of exposure is going to help you grow, help you learn and help you be much more effective now and into the future.

So if we think about this pie is really where we wanna be playing because cake as tasty as it is and as comfortable as it is. Doesn't necessarily elevate us to that sea suit. So, I'm really keen, I guess to hear from some of you potentially in the chat, uh, or come off mute if you like about your experiences with cake and with pie. Oh, I've lost you all and I can't see you. How much fun is that? Hello? Confidence is a big one, Simone saying. Yeah, especially when you're in under nine. Yeah. And I think this is really interesting because what a good sponsor will do is they'll call that behavior for you. They'll be able to say, um you know, when they see those behaviors, they'll actually be able to help you manage those in the room. Uh And often a good sponsor will be able to say, hey, this is not working for us right now. We really need to be able to hear what Simone is saying because I know that she's talent and she's got a lot to give right now. Yeah. Yeah, Christina, it's easy to get cake but pie. Yes, it is. It's really difficult to get access to. And I think this is the, the thing to start to look at is to be really strategic about who you might potentially want to sponsor you.

Um And often what we find like is formal sponsorship programs are really helpful because that's where you can educate your sponsors and start to help them. See that sponsoring more mini mes isn't going to get the diversity that they need in their boardrooms. And we all know that a gender devo verse exec leadership team is more profitable. It's much, much better, it's much more representative of the community and it's much more innovative. So that's where your formal sponsorship program can be really, really helpful is in that. Yeah.

And D I think that's true. Cake is a, is a really easy place to start and sometimes what you'll find is that you'll start down the mentoring end of the spectrum and then, you know, you'll build that and then, you know, you might find that they move from that real classic mentoring into much more of a strategize with you.

They'll help you strategize about how to get to where you wanna go and then they'll start to become that advocate for you over time. And so you can move up that spectrum and cakes a great place, I guess just to, to build that trust. But if we continue always to eat cake, it's a little bit like Marie Antoinette said, it's not gonna end well. Just let them eat cake. You want a little bit of pie. Um What should you do? Uh to reach out? I think that's a really good question, Lara. I'm assuming you're asking about how do I reach out to, to get a sponsor? Uh And I think this is, if you a really useful activity that you can do is start to map your networks, so map who it is that you potentially would like access to and then look at who is it that does have access to them? And how can you start to build relationships around them? Because sometimes what can happen. And the most powerful form of recommendation is when other people start to talk about you to, to the people that you want to get access to. And that can be a really nice way then to get the introduction to your sponsor, but it does take a little bit of time and effort to think about.

Um If you're trying to drive that sponsorship opportunity for yourself, I guess what I would always encourage is especially for anyone that's in that C SUITE is to think about how do you implement a really formal sponsorship program? Because then you've got the ability to sit down and go, how do we reach the underrepresented groups? You know, I think for women in tech in leadership, we're really underrepresented. But when we start to look uh for women of color in leadership that, that drops off even more, you know. So it's really important that we're starting to educate our boards and our leadership teams uh about unconscious bias and about how do they genuinely sponsor and not just mentor uh women? Yeah. Um So I can see here. Yes, that question around that. How do you get a sponsor without the, the formal program? So again, start to think about who's got the exposure and the experience that you'd like access to and start to do your own network mapping to get there. Yeah. Oh, I love this. Yeah. Compulsory, uh, compulsory enjoyment activity. C Suite roles. Thanks Alison. Uh, looking at that they should have a sponsored relationship. I think what's really interesting. There is lots of people in the C Suite do sponsor. The question is who are they sponsoring?

And how do we make sure that they're taking that step back and not just sponsoring Mini Mes? Uh And I think that's a really interesting question because you'll often find that we do in sponsorship. You know, that 70% figure that I said before is where we, uh we see people all the time ending up sponsoring Mini Mes. Yeah, Simone, I love that smorgasbord uh idea. That's great. Uh I think that's great. Ok, so it's hard to know who to trust to be your sponsor. So, what's your key tip to softly, softly or jump in and go for it? Uh I think it's just contextual because I think there's different cultures in organizations. And so really thinking about that context and what's appropriate in your particular context. But I think, you know, often we don't ask for our own needs or advocate for our own needs. And so if we can do that and it's appropriate in the culture of your organization, then I think there's absolutely no harm in asking. I mean, the worst thing that can happen is you get a no. Yeah. And Hazel saying that, you know, sponsorship can happen at all levels. Absolutely. It can. I guess this talk was just really looking at what we've done and what we know and have researched that gets people to the C SUITE.

You know, we've been very fortunate to work with a lot of large organizations where we've seen huge jumps in representation for both women and other underrepresented groups in that C Suite and the ELT uh executive leadership team uh through, through the these particular techniques and, and focusing on that pie versus that cake.

Um But absolutely, you can get sponsors at all levels, but just remembering that there, there is a currency I think in sponsorship. And so the further up we go in an organization, we often have more power and we often have more privilege that we have as it, it's almost that informal currency that we can spend. And so if you can find a sponsor that has that, that power and privilege and that they recognize that they have that and that they want to use that in order to advocate for you in order to get you exposure in order to help you increase your leadership influence and image. Then that's where we see the biggest cut through. Hm, thanks Hazel. I do love your point. I really do and I love that, that idea of followership. As well that fan following because it's so so powerful. Yeah, absolutely. Um Yeah, so Vita I'm on linkedin. Please feel free to connect with me on linkedin or um jump in and you can also follow inkling on linkedin. We often post about the work that we're doing there. So if you're interested, you can lovely, beautiful. So, thank you very much for joining me today. I hope I haven't missed anybody in the comments and with your questions, if you've got any final questions, feel free to drop them in the chat. Uh, before we finish up, got one more minute, two more minutes left. Thanks, Simone. Really appreciate that. It's nice to get feedback.

Thank you. Thanks, Maria. Ah, thanks that I wish I had your background though. I'm looking forward to your talk. Thanks. Thank you. Thank you. Thank you so much. Have a wonderful rest of your conference and, uh, I look forward to keeping in touch and watching all the other fabulous speakers that are coming up. Oh, thanks, MS ok. Thanks to have a great night or morning, whatever it is where you are. Thank you afternoon. Have a good afternoon and sa what? Oh, I think that it's our time. I'm going to uh end the session now. Thank you so much.