Bringing something to the (coffee) table: the mutual benefits of sponsorship

Participants on the Diversifying Leadership Programme are assigned a career sponsor. In this post, programme director Jannett Morgan reflects an early sponsorship encounter.

When a senior leader invited me to “go for a coffee”, little did I know it would be the beginning of a fruitful and long-lasting sponsorship relationship. I met “Kevin” (not his real name) many years ago while on a career development programme for aspiring BME leaders. I was a young(ish) ambitious manager in a successful further education college and highly respected by my colleagues. Kevin was one of the keynote speakers, clearly someone with clout in the sector. And unbeknown to me, I was on Kevin’s radar, hence the coffee invitation.

We would meet up every once in awhile in the foyer of a local hotel. While our meetings were informal in nature, there was always an underlying business brief. I learned to appreciate Kevin’s directness and his desire to discover what made me tick. At first glance one might think a white male and black female had little in common, but our love of family, passion for teaching and belief in social justice revealed similar values. The fact I’m a Spurs fan and he supports that other North London team could have been a deal breaker but we’ve managed to work through this. So far.

As our relationship evolved, Kevin began inviting me to senior-level business meetings and (knowing I was someone who could deliver results) putting my name forward for work. He also invited me to leaving drinks and other social functions – a fascinating study of how leaders behave when off duty.

Sponsorship is not mentorship

Back then I’d not heard the term ‘sponsor’ applied in this way. Mentoring is one of, if not the most favoured development activities offered to BME and other minority ethnic staff groups. Certainly, mentoring from a senior member of staff can be effective in terms of boosting confidence and career upskilling –  a bit like having your own personal Master Yoda at work. So what’s the difference? Sponsorship can be more of a career game changer than mentorship because the sponsor uses his (or her – usually his) influence and power to open doors for you. For me, the spoils of sponsorship to date include visibility, more lucrative contracts and access to a much wider network of associates.

BME staff tend to be over-mentored and under-sponsored. And yet, a study by the Center for Talent Innovation found employees from ethnic minorities who had sponsors were two-thirds more likely than their unsponsored peers to be satisfied with their career progression rate. Sponsorship doesn’t just benefit the protégé, either. What’s in it for the sponsor? Well, Kevin’s interest in me wasn’t based on altruism; the return on his ‘investment’ in me was my technical expertise, cultural capital and operational capacity. Most of all, he knew I was a loyal and trustworthy colleague.

For this reason, participants on the Diversifying Leadership Programme have the opportunity to work with a sponsor and develop a mutually rewarding ‘quid pro quo’ relationship. Like the one I continue to enjoy with Kevin.

Actually, Kevin and I are due another coffee very soon. Given Spurs are ahead in the table, I guess I’m buying.

The Leadership Foundation has published a Sponsor Toolkit for use by senior leaders in UK higher education who are sponsoring participants on the Diversifying Leadership. Diversifying Leadership offers targeted leadership development support to early career BME academics and professional services staff.  The Sponsor Toolkit is available at www.lfhe.ac.uk/DLSponsorToolkit

For details of the next run of the Diversifying Leadership Programme click here

Developing diversity at the University of Birmingham

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In our last blog post we highlighted new research showing that black, asian and minority ethnic (BAME) academics remain under-represented at senior levels in higher education – there are only 20 UK-born black and ethnic minority deputy or pro-vice-chancellors, compared with 530 white ones – and introduced our new Diversifying Academic Leadership Programme.

We’re also supporting an exciting Small Development Project at the University of Birmingham, the Aditi Leadership Programme, that will provide leadership development interventions with the aim of unlocking the potential of aspiring BAME leaders.

The University of Birmingham employs 1,013 staff (16%) from BAME backgrounds, substantially above the sector average of 10.3%. However, this is under representative of the BAME population in Birmingham and there is a clear trend of BAME staff representation decreasing as seniority increases.

Research and focus groups at the university revealed the need for tailored leadership programmes to develop aspiring BAME leaders. The programme that has been planned as a result will equip BAME staff for future leadership roles, providing them with a network and more visible profile in the university. It will also enable the university and the community to share skills and resources, and create future career pathways by demonstrating how the full range of diverse leadership talents can flourish. The project will identify and address any institutional factors that might impede the unlocking of leadership potential in BAME colleagues, which is of tangible benefit to other higher education institutions.

The programme will be blended, encompassing workshops, action learning sets, coaching, mentoring, online and other technological support, project work and secondments.

Each participant will compile a leadership portfolio, demonstrating a deep understanding of their unique talents and how they will use them. The programme will be outward facing and will engage with the local community through initiatives such as mentoring.

The programme has been tested in focus groups and the pilot programme (with 10 BAME staff) is due to conclude in March 2016, with a full roll out next summer.

If you would like to submit your application for our Small Development Projects, please click here. The deadline for applications is Tuesday 5 January 2016. 

The Birmingham cohort of the Diversifying Academic Leadership Programme is fully booked. There are spaces available on our London and Manchester cohorts. To find out more and book, click here.

Could UK Academy be doing more to ensure more BME academics progress to senior levels?

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Why do BME academics remain under-represented at senior levels in HE? That’s one of the questions recently posed by the Time Higher Education (5-11 November 2015). “Despite an increasing number of black and ethnicity staff working in universities, there is a ‘marked lack of diversity at senior levels; lower than average salaries for black academics,” reports John Gill having reviewed the latest datasets from the Equality Challenge Unit. Indeed, Equality Data in Higher Education, published by ECU earlier this month, makes for uncomfortable reading.

It highlights that there are only 20 UK born black and ethnic minority Deputy or Pro Vice-Chancellors, compared with 530 white ones. So what is stopping BME staff from progressing into senior roles – and where should the focus be placed?

In June 2015, the Leadership Foundation, working with the Equality Challenge Unit, held a BME Leadership in HE Summit to explore the findings of a report we’d commissioned, The experience of BME academics in higher education: aspirations in the face of inequality. In it the author, Dr Kalwant Bhopal, Reader in Education, University of Southampton, said ‘there have been some significant advances in achieving race equality in higher education in the UK since the Race Relations Amendment Act 2000, but despite such advances, there is still evidence to suggest that inequalities for staff in higher education persist.’

Bhopal’s paper also set out six practical policy recommendations that senior leaders should consider. They included:

  • Greater thought needs to be given to the possibility of unconscious bias during recruitment and promotion processes
  • Institutions should examine the types of support they offer to colleagues who are considering promotion to senior managerial and academic roles
  • Clear and concise monitoring is needed in selection and recruitment processes

Organisational culture, unconscious and conscious bias, recruitment processes were amongst the list of reasons cited by summit delegates as barriers to progression – all of which resonated with our stimulus paper findings.

It is clear that many shifts need to happen – but there are signs that steps are being taken.  The RACE Equality Charter Mark, which has completed its pilot, aims to get universities to review their promotion processes, consider what they are doing to do to encourage people to apply and how individuals are supported through the process.

However, could more be done to encourage and prepare BME academics to apply for senior roles? This is where the Leadership Foundation’s new Diversifying Academic Leadership Programme seeks to make a contribution.

Designed by Janette Morgan, Associate, Leadership Foundation and Sisonke Partnership, the programme aims to help BME staff accomplish their leadership ambitions and progress their career. Diversifying Academic Leadership, which starts in January 2016, will enable participants to explore leadership concepts, develop their leadership style and provide a space to discuss issues relating to their experience of working in universities.

The first cohort of Diversifying Academic Leadership Programme is fully booked. However there are still places available for the second cohort taking place in Manchester and the third cohort taking place in Birmingham. For more information, visit wwww.lfhe.ac.uk/diversifyingacademicleadership

Download a copy of The experience of BME academics in higher education: aspirations in the face of inequality.