Written by
Changeboard Team

09 Dec 2015

09 Dec 2015 • by Changeboard Team

We are not measured by the number of champions we create, but by the number of opportunities we create for others to be champions in life Billie Jean King

You may have heard it said that ‘women are over mentored but under-sponsored’ in the workplace. Our research on gender diversity in leadership conducted in over 50 countries in different continents, across all sectors, public and private and non profit, identified another more crucial factor in place: championship. 

We also interviewed 60 women who had already achieved the most senior positions in a range of organisations, – from a Prime Minister, through to chairs, to CEOs and directors. Almost without exception, and using different language, they referred to having been championed at some point in their lives.

We were blown away by this amazing congruence – and we started to explore what was going on.  What we found was profound. Women who had reached the very top – or very near the top - of the full range of organisations, had developed self belief and confidence as a result of a respected figure in their lives seeing  their potential and believing in them.

As you would expect in their early stages it was often a parent or teacher. But more significantly, during the very early stages of their career, or later at the beginning of a new role or job that individual was a line manager or more senior  leader.  What characterized these individuals was a genuine interest in, and care for, the individual, a belief that talent was precious together with a desire to nurture and develop it further.  What was not there was the transactional nature that so often characterizes sponsorship, the ‘I will do something for you and you will do something for me in return’.

Championship seemed to be different.  We define it as: proactive support and advocacy that advances a woman’s leadership aspirations with care for them as a person. From our research it is a behaviour that enables women to flourish in various cultural contexts and different organisations.

Why championing works so well for women...

To explain this process we developed the CHAMP model, which underpins the championing journey for the Champions, the ‘Ones to Watch’ and their organisations.

1. For championship to succeed it needs an organisational culture where relationships between senior managers and more junior staff can be transparent and seen as part of succession planning and developing talent pipelines. 

2.    Women tend to be more mindful than men of their social environment. That means they pay more attention to what others think about them they are thus more likely to hesitate in promoting themselves. The impact of someone who believes in their talent and potential, for their sake rather than for any return direct or indirect, is thus very significant, and together with the confidence that comes from succeeding in stretch roles, builds their self confidence. This helps overcome the hesitancy women often feel when facing uncertainty and risks.

3.    The value of a champion lies in their ability to identify talent and have the power to influence and advocate for the OTW ‘one to watch’, enabling them to test themselves in a number of stretch roles. The impact of this has been found to level the ‘playing field’, so when women reached the point of being considered for senior posts their experience matched that of men in terms of the challenging roles they have successfully fulfilled.

4.    Championing. The champion brings their experience, influence and networks. At the same time the OTW takes a proactive approach to developing their career, acknowledge their ambition and be comfortable with talking about what they want to achieve.

5.    What is the overall effect of championing? To increase the critical mass of really talented women into positions of power. When this happens the organisation benefts, the pipeline benefits from senior female role models, and the champions benefit from demonstrating robust succession plans. There is a great multiplier effect promoting diverse talent that underpins strong performance.

When working with organisations to implement a Championing framework the motivation has to come from executive or senior management. If individuals at this level take on a firm commitment to identify talent amongst OTW at middle management they can create a cascade where middle managers adopt a similar approach with younger, new entrants. Women are less likely to overtly push themselves forward to attract champions. The relationship flourishes where champions are committed to seeking out talent through recommendations and a genuine desire to identify and nurture talented individuals. This, combined with the OTW demonstrating potential of their talent through their work, and being encouraged to be open about their ambitions and share ideas, creates the environment to nurture championing. Of course there is a strong element of personal chemistry, as in coaching.

If you expect someone to advocate for you, trust is essential. For women in particular, trust and personal connections are tightly entwined. Champions must be clear about the value of their role; they are senior leaders, who having amassed a great deal of experience, want to see the best possible talent thrive and have a genuine interest in getting to know new talent in their organisations. For champions this relationship creates the opportunity to leave their legacy in building a pipeline of talent that is not moulded in their likeness, but diverse and powerful.

Women are more mindful of their social environment; unlike men who care about status more than anything and compete for it in a number of ways, women care about ‘fitting in’ and being liked.

Lady Kitty Chishom

Kitty brings together knowledge of the neurobiological bases of behaviour change, with expertise in talent management, leadership development and organisational and individual learning.

Dr Shaheena Janjuha-Jivraj

Shaheena is an expert in unlocking entrepreneurial thinking, branding, business planning and strategy. Her research covers family businesses, women in leadership and women on boards.