This blog is part of a series from Director of Equality, Diversity and Inclusion, Sarah Guerra, where she will be addressing the ‘whole picture’ of EDI, why it is important, and how we go about making effective, systemic change.
Senior level sponsorship, sometimes called ‘championing,’ is a critical step in ensuring sustainable change when working toward EDI goals; without this support organisations would not be able to sustain changes made in their behaviour.
A wide range of research plus my personal experience tells me that is the number one indicator of the success of any equality, diversity, and inclusion activity in an organisation. The phrase can make some feel uncomfortable, with concerns of patronage or nepotism, but the reality is far from that. Executive sponsorship simply recognises that what those in charge of an organisation care about and put their energy into, gets done! This is because those across the organisation also then see the work as important, and that they will be rewarded or better regarded if they too care about it.
Executive Sponsors have several duties in demonstrating active support. They are people appropriately placed in an organisation, who have significant influence on decision-making processes or structures. They can advocate for, protect, and positively drive EDI activity, and act as inclusive role models for the organisation.
Executive (sometimes called Programme Sponsors) provide visibility and access to decision-making environments and reduce the risk that individuals from underrepresented groups face. Sponsors can provide challenging conversations to support new and progressive activity. A key part of their role is to demonstrate their belief in the potential of the programme outcomes and help build that belief in others and so act as ‘the face of change’ for the organisation. They will utilise their voice to champion the activity in question challenge bias, as well as shield those in less powerful or more vulnerable positions from harm or undue criticism. A Sponsor’s role is to demonstrate the case for change, and to always champion building a positive culture.
Sponsors can help ensure that the equality, diversity and inclusion activity relate to the organisation’s overall aims. They can help by helping others see the connection between the EDI goals and the organisation’s wider goals. They can use their personal skills, positions of influence and power to overcome resistance from others or to help unblock tricky areas. Sometimes it is a question of resources and sometimes it is a question of organisational culture or attitude.
At King’s we have a whole variety of sponsors and champions. Some of particular note have been: Prof. Ed Byrne in his overall sponsorship of EDI; Prof. ‘Funmi Olonsakin and Prof. Evelyn Welch, who have both taken positions of leadership for REC and Athena Swan; Prof. Reza Razavi, who has really pushed to improve the work culture in our research areas. Recently, Prof. Richard Trembath has become the sponsor for our programme of work around disability inclusion. The work of all these as Sponsors has included: chairing working groups; advocating very powerfully across King’s to get things moving; working quietly behind the scenes to lend their expertise and knowledge; providing mentorship, coaching and importantly access to themselves as a means of opening doors for others. They and many others have demonstrated a willingness to speak out on issues and educate others. They consciously sponsor employees from different backgrounds and challenge their peers to do the same.
The heart of executive sponsorship is realising and taking the many opportunities you have to highlight issues - be it at team meetings, executive meetings or during one-to-one discussions - to help ensure actions are in place, to raise awareness, to support diverse progression, and to mentor and coach others.
Programmes for inclusion work well when they are driven by senior leaders and shaped by their people. A successful cross-cultural sponsor relies on mutual understanding on matters related to race, culture, and inclusion. Therefore, they need to be visible, and willing to have sometimes challenging conversations about race with honesty, understanding and courage. We are helping build our SMT’s capability to be great sponsors and champions with our Mutual Mentoring programme sponsored by SVP Operations Steve Large. I am planning a separate blog on mentoring and reverse mentoring, so look out for that.
On the flip side, it is important to remember that equality, diversity, and inclusion is incredibly people-focused, and can raise a lot of sensitivities. A Sponsor’s presence at programmes and events will not only attract more employees, but it also speaks volumes about the importance of the issue on the organisation’s agenda. However, they must be people who others trust and feel comfortable with otherwise their presence and sponsorship may not have the positive impacts that are needed.
I would like to thank all our Sponsors at King’s. They exist right across the gamut of King’s. I would like to urge all of those in a senior leadership position to consider – what are you seen as sponsoring? If you cannot answer that question, then let’s have a chat as I have a long list of ways in which you can help advance EDI at King’s!