Sponsorship Creates Pathways for Remote Career Opportunities


The top two challenges highlighted during the September Networkplaceless discussion about remote opportunities were: 

  1. Lack of leaders creating and fostering opportunities 
  2. Lack of relationship building opportunities 

During our October Networkplaceless we welcomed Julia Taylor Kennedy, Executive Vice President at the Center for Talent Innovation, who shared expert advice on how the area of sponsorship could apply directly to remote work environments in addressing these issues.

In all work environments, it’s critical to establish and foster relationships that encourage career growth, however, it’s also necessary to think through objectives and expectations for each relationship. Four categories of professional development relationships include: 

  • Coaching. A coach shares advice on closing discrete skill gaps.
  • Advocacy. An advocate helps a colleague by endorsing an idea or project. 
  • Mentorship. A mentor provides a safe space for nurturing, feedback, learning. Mentors don’t necessarily have to work where you do, and mentors are often paying it forward vs expecting something in return.
  • Sponsorship. A sponsor provides a longer-term relationship where by repeatedly supporting and recommending a protégé in order to help advance the protégé’s career opportunities. 

To lay the groundwork, Taylor Kennedy highlighted a key distinction between a sponsor and a mentor:


Mentors talk to you. Sponsors talk about you. 


For remote employees—especially those who are part of co-located teams—a critical benefit  of a sponsor relationship is that sponsors talk about you when you’re not there. As remote employees often express feelings of “out of sight, out of mind,” having a sponsor keeping you top of mind in those conversations can be a critical component to a remote career progression.  This means a sponsor needs to believe in you, based on the performance results you’ve driven and they need to know where you want to go in your career.


What is a Sponsor? 

As Taylor Kennedy explained, a sponsor is a senior leader who:

  • Believes in you and goes out on a limb on your behalf.
  • Advocates for your next promotion.
  • Provides air cover, or defends your reputation at a distance.


What is a Protégé? 

Taylor Kennedy described a protégé as a high-potential employee who:

  • Contributes 110%.
  • Is loyal to the sponsor and the organization.
  • Brings a “value add”—different perspectives or skill-sets. 


The Diversity Gap

Taylor Kennedy’s research revealed significant gaps in sponsorship distribution between men and women as well as between white talent and talent of color. This diversity gap only widens when it comes to transparency of sponsorship, meaning people of color are eight times more likely to believe they have a sponsor than they actually do.

This brings up one of the biggest traps of sponsorship—“mini me syndrome.” Seventy-one percent of sponsors are the same gender or race at their primary protégé. It’s human nature to be more likely to see the potential in someone who has a similar experience to your own, however, this excludes protégés with a diverse backgrounds or varying remote experience. Sponsors need to intentionally seek out protégés that don’t replicate their own career path and who can add value via perspectives, skill sets or connections.


How Can Remote Workers Build a Sponsorship Network? 

For remote individuals, how can you work to develop and foster a network of sponsors relationships?

  1. As a protégé:
    • Spend time on an intentional network map
    • Seek out sponsors who are located in-office
    • Come through on performance and loyalty
    • Don’t overlook the opportunities to be a sponsor
  2. As a sponsor:
    • Understand what’s in it for you and the organization
    • Watch out for the “Mini Me Syndrome”
    • Give critical feedback on hard issues
    • Advocate and protect your protégé


How Can Companies Develop a Sponsorship Framework? 

For remote companies, how do you develop a framework to foster development of sponsor-protégé relationship models? 

Taylor Kennedy highlighted both formal and informal possibilities, however, as we believe everything in remote environments must be done with intention and transparency, we’d opt for a more formal approach:

  1. Establish the goals for a sponsorship model.
  2. Gain buy-in from senior leadership.
  3. Educate all levels of the company on the goals of the sponsorship program – what it is, what it isn’t, and what’s expected from both parties.
  4. Engage senior leadership in initial roll out by requiring them to identify protégés within the parameters of the program.
  5. Evaluate results as aligned to the objective.


If your organization is interested in exploring a sponsorship-protégé program, we highly recommend reaching out to the Center for Talent Innovation to explore their extensive research and case studies. 

More articles from Julia Taylor Kennedy:


Join our next Networkplaceless professional development and virtual networking event.

For more disciplined recommendations on how to develop your remote career, enroll in our remote career development course Growplaceless!


Click here to view the complete Networkplaceless – October outcomes infographic. 


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Workplaceless envisions a workforce that thrives in a flexible and digital-first future—where performance and growth are not constrained by location. Our team goal is to share insights and practices that will help professionals and companies achieve this aspiration.
Workplaceless envisions a workforce that thrives in a flexible and digital-first future—where performance and growth are not constrained by location. Our team goal is to share insights and practices that will help professionals and companies achieve this aspiration.
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