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In conjunction with MSD India, Catalyst India WRC hosted a roundtable that focused on the importance of sponsorship and mentoring.

 In attendance were representatives from Catalyst member companies including Deutsche Bank, Grant Thornton, Wipro, Johnson & Johnson, Barclays, Tata, MSD, and other companies based in India. The roundtable kicked off with a warm welcome from MSD India’s Managing Director, Mr. K.G. Ananthakrishnan, who briefly described MSD India’s D&I journey and various initiatives it is undertaking, with a special focus on mentoring and sponsorship programs. His opening remarks were made powerful by his personal stories which connected well with the audience.

Aarti Shyamsunder, PhD, Director, Research, Catalyst, then presented key research-based insights about mentoring and sponsorship in organizations. She described mentoring as a career developer and sponsorship as a career accelerator, a distinction which resonated well with the participants who shared insights about these differences from their own lives. Dr. Shyamsunder also discussed the benefits of sponsorship for the protégé, the sponsor, and the organization at large. A healthy discussion ensued around whether sponsorship might have some negative effects as well. For instance, when someone takes a protégé under his or her wing as a sponsor, it might be seen as favouritism or furthering in-group tendencies. Catalyst work shows that one way to counter this potential downside is to bring about a sponsorship culture in organizations.

Sponsorship happens already—sometimes behind closed doors, sometimes at water coolers, during business trips, or at the golf course.  The idea is to bring sponsorship out in the open, and create opportunities for women and other under-represented groups to gain access to visible and influential sponsors in the organization so that instead of favouritism, it is merit that results in opportunities for advancement.

Throughout the session, small interactive activities and exercises provoked participants to reflect and share their understanding and challenges around mentoring and sponsorship. When asked to think of who they would sponsor in their organizations—and whether this person looked like them—a participant noted that “The truth is, the person I identified to sponsor, is exactly like me! Now, if everyone ends up doing this we will naturally have more men sponsor other men—because there are more senior male leaders. We must make a conscious effort to break this cycle of sponsoring those who are similar to us!”

Another exercise revealed that in most organizations, awareness and communication around the benefits of sponsorship is the biggest hurdle to overcome when creating more advancement opportunities for women. Participants left determined to change that by talking about sponsorship to the constituents that matter the most in their context—senior leaders, HR, or even new employees entering the organization.

The roundtable ended with Catalyst’s tips for protégés and for sponsors as well as showcasing some Catalyst tools and organizational practices around sponsorship.

For more details around this or other events, contact us at [email protected].

For relevant Catalyst knowledge products about mentoring and sponsorship visit:

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