To all you ambitious women if you do one thing in 2018 for your career – find a sponsor!

5 March, 2018
Fleur Bothwick

When we first started to build out the gender agenda at EY, our gender partner sponsor and I had a call with the States and asked them which one of all of their initiatives had really delivered on investment.  They suggested, Career Watch, a sponsorship programme that at the time they ran for their women.  We customised it for the UK and later rolled it out across EMEIA and I can say that in my 15+ years of experience in this field, if it is run correctly, it probably is the most impactful intervention that you will find.

Now to be clear, I am talking about sponsorship which we define as a senior leader who leverages their personal and organizational authority to hold line management accountable for retaining, guiding and supporting high potentials to a senior leadership position.  This is not about mentoring (which is an important role), but too often people dumb down the sponsorship role and end up with a platinum mentoring programme.   Mentoring is what happens when you are in the room, a lot of sponsorship happens when you are not there.  As Sylvia Ann Hewlett of the Centre for Talent Innovation once said ‘mentors advise, sponsors act’.

The role of our Career Watchers can be quite low touch but high impact.  They are expected to actively intervene on behalf of the Watchee when they see road blocks.  So for example in professional services, the Watcher would be looking at how the individual’s business case for partner promotion was developing.  Did they have exposure to leadership, were they working on the right client accounts, how strong was their profile across the service line, did they get considered for cross border projects?

A Career Watcher is expected to:

  • Advocate for the Watchees next promotion
  • Promote their visibility
  • Give them honest and critical feedback
  • Connect the Watchee to senior leaders
  • Put their own political capital on the line
  • Make sure the individual is getting stretch opportunities

The role of the Watchee (sometimes called the protégé) is as important as their Watcher and in my experience, this is often where the relationship goes wrong.  The Watchee has to be willing to take the lead.  They need to be intentional about developing the relationship.  I was talking to one of our high potential women a couple of years ago and she told me that her Watcher was our CFO (who was a great people developer).  She said that it hadn’t worked out because he had cancelled their first meeting.  I asked her what she had done about it and she said nothing.  It’s most likely that the CFO was oblivious to the cancellation – his EA would have cancelled the meeting and forgotten to rearrange.  The onus was on the watchee to re-arrange.

The role of the Watchee is to:

  • Be open and honest in discussing their career aspirations, performance and development
  • Take the initiative
  • Proactively seek feedback
  • Do what they say they will do
  • Be willing to consider and explore new opportunities
  • Listen and reflect


I really can’t recommend sponsorship highly enough to anyone that wants to make sure that they are getting all of the support available to achieve their full potential.  To an organisation I would say that informal sponsorship has been happening for years, now is the time to formalise the approach and make sure that you are tapping in to all, not just some of your top talent. 


If you are interested in more information on our EY programme, Career Watch, then do just download our app or read about sponsorship in Charlotte and my book, Inclusive Leadership.