Knowledge Center

Highlighting leading efforts recently recognized through Catalyst’s Practices Recognition Program, Liz-Mulligan Ferry, Senior Associate, Research, and Nikki Lamba, Senior Associate, Membership, led a panel on Sponsorship in Action. Panelists Richard Thorne, Vice President of Kimberly-Clark Professional North America; Jessica Riley, Senior Internal Communications Manager of Human Resources, Kimberly-Clark Corporation; and Martha Frye, Senior Regional Vice President of North Carolina Regional Operations, Nationwide Insurance, shared details on their own experiences as protégés and sponsors in a Q&A format.

The following quotes illustrate the panelists’ views on what sponsorship means, how it works, and the impact it can have.

On what sponsorship means:

  • Mentoring is talking with you, about you. Sponsorship is talking about you, with others. – Richard Thorne
  • The emphasis is on building trust and having “candid career conversations.” Time, trust, and helping each other were the keys to building the [sponsor-protégé] relationship.  – Martha Frye

On whom sponsorship is for:

  • All employees should have access to sponsorship, and mentorship.…Good leaders will ignore talent at their peril! – Richard Thorne
  • Don’t let geography stop you; it is very possible to mentor and sponsor across distance. –  Martha Frye
  • When sponsorship happens across distance, as a protégé you’ll have to be a bit more diligent about bringing your accomplishments forward, and you need to find ways for the sponsor to see you in action. But it’s still very doable. – Jessica Riley

On expectations and what to bring to the table:

  • It’s easy to get comfortable in your career, and being a part of the [sponsorship] program meant being open to feedback and to change. It felt risky but it was a great decision. – Jessica Riley
  • Being able to know what you want and how your sponsor can help you is really important—you can’t just go into it without being clear yourself. Also, be careful and thoughtful about what you ask for.…The firm was serious about this program as a way of developing talent, so you need to be serious about what you are asking for. – Martha Frye

On the impact of sponsorship:

  • Being sponsored changed the way I think about myself as a leader by empowering and motivating me more than ever to go after my career goals and be fearless when I do it. –Jessica Riley
  • Sponsorship makes a high impact personally, professionally and in the business. Being a sponsor has made me realize the wealth of talent across the organization that I previously was not exposed to. I’ve seen the value of cross-functional sponsorship. I feel inspired by the passion of the protégés and their desire for the company to be successful. With all due respect to myself, I am not the future of my company the way I was 30 years ago—but my protégée and her peers are. – Richard Thorne