Workplaces that support best-practice career sponsorship are collaborative, collegial and inclusive. They have cultures that share knowledge and work to enhance the careers of all as a collective endeavour. So, what are the characteristics of such a workplace, and how can they be achieved?
This article draws on the Champions of Change Sponsorship Toolkit, which in turn draws on a number of guides developed for other disciplines – particularly Sponsorship: Creating Career Opportunities for Women in Higher Education by Jennifer de Vries and Jennifer Binns (Universities Australia Executive Women, 2018).
This is part of the Stepping Up editorial program, which aims to share knowledge and experiences from the Champions of Change Architecture Group with the architecture and built environment practices more broadly.
Sponsorship works best in a culture that supports relationship building, where people are part of a community of colleagues and professional development needs are prioritised.”
— Jennifer de Vries and Jennifer Binns, Sponsorship: Creating Career Opportunities for Women in Higher Education
To be viable and effective in the long term, career sponsorship needs to be recognised as a key component of career progression, one that is fundamental to the development of individuals, teams and the practice (and profession) as a whole. This starts by acknowledging that sponsorship is most probably already occurring in ad hoc ways and understanding that this can be a vehicle for bias and unequal opportunity.
The next step is to establish cultures, processes and habits that promote and support collaborative and inclusive approaches to career sponsorship. This article outlines the characteristics of workplaces that support this and offers an outline of what can be done by practices, leaders and individuals to achieve it.
This article extracts a set of strategies developed by Jennifer de Vries and Jennifer Binns in their outstanding 2018 guide to sponsorship within the university sector, Sponsorship: Creating Career Opportunities for Women in Higher Education. Many of the recommendations are directly relevant to architectural practice and the Champions of Change Architecture Group has adapted them for architecture practices and the profession.
Suggestions are offered at three scales – the development of organisational processes and cultures, opportunities for leaders to actively embrace and support career sponsorship, and strategies for individuals to make the most of sponsorship as they build their careers.
This article covers:
Characteristics of supportive workplaces
De Vries and Binns identify the following core characteristics of workplaces that support best-practice cultures as a collaborative and legitimised business practice. In these environments all leaders are expected and enabled to sponsor others.
Sponsorship strategies are developed and implemented collaboratively, involving shared resources and knowledge.
Sponsorship is inclusive and tailored to individual needs – everyone is assisted to reach their potential.
Leaders are held accountable, and the risk of bias and exploitation is managed through clear expectations and group processes.
Sponsorship decisions are underpinned by clear expectations of leader responsibilities, outcomes and desired behaviours.
Sponsorship occurs in an open, predictable way – everyone knows what to expect.
Leaders are supported, rewarded and valued for their sponsorship actions/outcomes.
Sponsorship outcomes are optimised through collaborative effort to harness the capability and resources of the entire workplace.
How to develop a culture of sponsorship within a practice
De Vries and Binns outline a six-step process to help organisations develop the culture and systems to support fair, inclusive and equitable sponsorship. The Champions of Change Architecture Group has adapted key components that can be used in architectural practice as part of a suite of interventions to address inequity.
Commit and communicate
Map the current situation
Set expectations and create accountability
Develop knowledge and skills
Embed in cultures
Review progress; identify and assess gaps
Opportunities and responsibilities of leaders
Establishing supportive sponsorship cultures requires action from leaders and from the people that make up the practice. De Vries and Binns offer a set of considerations for leaders and for individuals, which have been adapted by the Champions of Change Architecture Group for architectural practice.
Take stock – reflect and inquire
Reflect on the following questions
Inquire about the following
Strengthen your sponsorship practices
Be a sponsorship advocate
Strategies for individuals
De Vries and Binns point out that understanding how sponsorship works empowers people to enhance their own careers and the careers of others. They offer a set of considerations to assist.
Conduct a personal sponsorship scan to understand how sponsorship works in your career
Observe and inquire how sponsorship works in the careers of others
Develop your sponsorship practices
Be a sponsorship advocate
For more information see What is Career Sponsorship and Why does it Matter? and the Light at the End of the Tunnel session on Career Progression and Sponsorship with Natalie Galea and Sophie Olsen.
This article was compiled and edited by Justine Clark as part of a set that draws on the Sponsorship Toolkit, created by the Champions of Change Architecture Group. Valuable assistance was given by Monica Edwards of the Champions of Change Architecture Group Advocacy and Comms Focus Group.
The Champions of Change Architecture Group Sponsorship Toolkit was developed by Karen Sangster (Le Provost) with Monica Edwards and Alex Small. It was closely informed by Sponsorship: Creating Career Opportunities for Women in Higher Education by Jennifer de Vries and Jennifer Binns (Universities Australia Executive Women, 2018).
Stepping Up is a collaboration between Parlour, the ACA and the Champions of Change Architecture group.