This article was previously featured in The Chronicle Herald.
At the 2006 Celebrating Inspiration luncheon with the WNBA's All-Decade Team, Madeleine Albright said “There is a special place in hell for women who don't help other women." I heard this as a call to action, one that has played over and over in my head as I have had the privilege over the years of mentoring, coaching, advising and talking with women leaders. I believe there are at least two reasons that Albright’s call to women to help other women is still relevant almost a decade later:
- Women remain under-represented in leadership roles. As a result, the math is simple. There are fewer women bosses to subordinates, fewer women mentors to mentees, and fewer women leaders to aspiring leaders in the workplace. When women look around their workplace they are less likely to find other women in leadership for inspiration and support. So, women in leadership roles need to play a more significant and even more deliberate role in helping their female colleagues to develop and progress.
- The gender imbalance impacts the way informal promoting and promotion happens. Most workplaces have embraced the notion of leadership development as an essential element to future success. Indeed, leadership courses, stretch assignments, and 360 feedback programs are impactful in creating leader competencies. But the informal recommendations of colleagues and their subjective opinions about leadership capability and potential continue to play a major role in determining promotion to leadership roles. In workplaces where men outnumber women, the impact of this ‘old boys’ network’ continues to be a significant force.
Catalyst, the leading nonprofit organization with a mission to expand opportunities for women and business, recently shared a helpful definition: “A coach talks to you, a mentor talks with you, a sponsor talks about you.” The ‘old boys’ network’ is an example of the power of sponsorship in action.
I believe Albright’s rallying cry underscores the need for women to create a similar sponsorship network. I’ll stop short of calling it an ‘old girls’ network’ but the idea of a similarly active, influential, and impactful dynamic certainly applies. We, as women, need to speak up and speak out on behalf of other women. We need to openly share our experience, advice and honest feedback with emerging women leaders. We need to be willing to use our influence and risk our personal credibility in our workplaces, at board room tables and in positions of power to make sure that emerging women leaders are known, seen and heard to be capable and full of potential. We are called not just to endorse their potential when asked but to proactively introduce them into the conversations about high potential future leaders.
I have resolved to heed Madeleine Albright’s warning and take up the call to help other women. I invite women everywhere to join me on the sponsorship journey.