I was recently attended an event run by Full Potential Group on the Future of Male and Female Collaboration. One of the themes that was raised was the subject of sponsorship as a way of helping women to advance to senior ranks thus providing greater diversity, particularly at board level, in organisations. The speaker explained that women in corporates need “sponsors” – i.e. senior executives who are willing to leverage their influence to advocate for promotions and stretch assignments for the individuals they are sponsoring. And whilst I agree with this idea, I wondered if it was only relevant inside the domain of the corporate, or whether the principle could be applied to women entrepreneurs, particularly those running micro enterprises (often owner-manager, with between 1 – 5 employees). In such a small business, what would be the purpose of providing sponsorship?
Sponsorship for Women Entrepreneurs?
For me the idea translates across businesses whereby a women business owner can leverage their influence to advocate for other women business owners, in different industries, or perhaps those providing complementary services or products. I find that sometimes women are not quite as open and supportive of other women entrepreneurs as they could be. Perhaps they view them are competition, or feel threatened. Or maybe its just that they are so focused on their own business, they don’t think to promote anyone else’s at the same time.
I decided to test my theory out on myself – and asked myself What am I doing to provide sponsorship to other women entrepreneurs? When I thought about it I realised that I do this by profiling other women in business in the articles and books I write. I discover these interesting women just by paying attention at conferences, and networking events and am genuinely interested in their business, and what has motivated them to start it up/grow it/come up with a new business concept etc. Once I find their uniqueness it gives me sufficient interest to want to tell others about them, and to share their story.
Seeking out opportunities to promote others businesses
For example, I recently came across Jemima Codrington, a freelance copywriter, who did some assignments for me. During our conversation, as well as checking out her website, I discovered that she had given up a well paid job to follow her passion which is writing. Many people dream of doing this, but fewer actually go through with it. I logged that as interesting in the back of my mind. Then a few weeks later, I met Neeraj Tyagi at a conference in Mumbai, who told me of her journey to start up her business, where she left a successful corporate job to follow her passion. These two instances gave me a reason to “sponsor” these courageous women. And when the right opportunity came up, I actively promoted what they had done via one of the articles I write for a women’s business website. They were delighted with the coverage and interest that the article generated for them.
Mindset required to be a proactive sponsor
I realised that you have to have the right mindset to be prepared to actively sponsor others, and two elements which are important are:
- Curiosity to find out about the person/their business even it it may not help you or your business directly.
- A belief that helping to promote another person, or their business will be worthwhile. i.e. seeing yourself as someone of influence, even if you are do not have Positional Power (you are not more senior to them).
Its really about doing something and expecting nothing in return. And in the busy world we operate in, often the first question that you are asked by another when you want some of their time, is what’s in it for me?
So I encourage you to put someone else’s name in the frame the next time you hear of an opportunity that could be good for them. Pay genuine attention to other’s businesses, and what makes them interesting. Whilst they not be in your sector, and have no direct relevance to your industry, what you do get to do is to practice listening to how they describe what they do, observe their level of enthusiasm when they speak, or notice how they describe what got them motivated to start up. Then you can apply some of these things to the way you behave too. Perhaps sponsorship could be a win-win opportunity, not just “what’s in it for me”.