Don’t Want to Be a Mentor For Diversity? Don’t Get Paid

Mentorship is one of the best ways to promote diversity in the c-suite and at the board level, but some leaders need an extra push.


Despite the fact that countless reports have shown correlations between financial performance and mentoring new diverse and inclusive teams, some senior-level executives still need convincing. For leaders who are resistant, there may only be one solution: tie sponsorship and mentorship of staff to their own money and advancement. 

“[We] do, explicitly. And it’s very much a part of every executives’ bonus calculation,” shared Phil Gilbert, general manager at IBM Design. “We’re not going to get the business outcomes we need if we don’t have the diversity in place to generate them. There’s a business driver for this. It’s not altruism. That frame resonates with people that we might otherwise not get to be allies.”

Like IBM, to promote sponsorship and mentoring The Boston Consulting Group (BCG) ties sponsorship of a diverse workforce not just to compensation of its leaders, but to their own advancement. “Sometimes it’s money, but more to succeed and advance and get to be a senior partner, explicitly, we ask ‘who are you sponsoring and promoting and putting into business?’ Without that you don’t advance,” said Matt Krentz, Global People Team Chair at BCG.

The speakers at the 2018 Catalyst Awards Conference all made diversity and inclusion top priority at their organizations. For each of them, sponsorship has been essential to their own success. Ten years into her career, Amy Shore, president P&C Sales and Distribution at Nationwide joined the insurance company as an individual contributor. It was a manager-level job at a subsidiary in a small office in Richmond, Virginia. “I’m in the chair today, running a $15 billion sales organization because someone sponsored me in my first year of joining the company.”

“My outcome could have been very different,” she said. “I might have elevated in that office and made another rank or two and been just fine but I would have remained an unknown quantity in a 34,000 person organization. But this leader, this influencer sponsored me, shined a light on my abilities, and that created the opportunity for me to get a really big national assignment and, as we know and as research shows, big visible national assignments where you succeed, launch your career.”

Shawn Purvis, corporate vice president at Northrop Gruman Corp. had a mentor whose guidance continues to influence her today. “He would give [a] proposal and then he’d say ‘you go brief it to the vice president,’” she said. “When you think about a sponsor, it’s not just someone who pushes you forward it’s also someone who allows you to fail a little bit, catches you, tweaks you, and pushes you back out there. When you’ve put that political capital and you allow someone to learn and grow – and we learn from our successes and our mistakes all equally – and they continue to give you those opportunities, that is very powerful as you move forward in your career.”

Achieving true diversity and inclusion at an organization means being intentional, which can sometimes feel uncomfortable, participants said. In his efforts keeping diversity and inclusion a top priority at his company, Kentz has experienced confusion and pushback from the established middle aged, white male culture. “All my partners were talking about being balanced and being fair,” Krentz shared. “But sponsorship is not about being balanced or fair, at all. And I realized the reason I’d gotten to where I was is because I had somebody who put me out there.”

Gilbert agreed, explaining that the fact that we’ve only seen gradual advancement in the placement of women and underrepresented minorities is because we’ve viewed the issue as something the individual has to do. Leaders have to shift their mindsets to recognize that this is a systemic problem, which requires a systemic solution. “We’ve told women to get mentors. We’ve told women to lean in and they have leaned in. We’ve told women to share the parenting responsibilities so they can travel more and they’ve done that. We’ve told women to do everything and the fact of the matter is we have yet to move the needle. We have to recognize that this is actually a systemic problem and that we’ve created male-dominated cultures that we don’t even see, certainly those of us who are white males.”

Nationwide strives for diversity and inclusion by requiring qualified diverse candidate pools for all director-and-above positions, before interviewing can begin.

“It helps discourage the process of saying ‘I’ve got my two or three go-to candidates, that’s who I want to talk to and I know I'm going to pick one of them’ because you don’t get a green light to pass go and start the hiring process until we’re sure that we have looked broader and deeper than we otherwise might out of habit,” said Shore.

In 2013, BCG established the goal of increasing the number of women employees in senior leadership roles and creating a more effective work environment. “For us, to succeed as a partner over time, you need to build and promote others.”

In the midst of global transformation, IBM has strategically focused on technical women’s career development and advancement. “If culture is what culture does, we have to start putting in place actions that reflect the culture we want, that, in turn, generates the culture down the road,” said Gilbert.