By: Emma Franck-Gwinnell

Read Emma’s original article on the Laidlaw Scholars Network

April 2, 2020

My reflections on the EQUALL conference earlier this month, and the ways insights from the conference have inspired me to change my behaviour.

Earlier this month, I won a ticket to attend the EQUALL Conference 2020. Below, I outline three key insights from the conference which I am excited to put into practice both now and when I join the workforce in August.

L-R: Lucy Manukyan, Emma Franck-Gwinnell.

1. Sponsorship in addition to mentorship

As a student, I had mentors through a number of mentorship programmes. Now that I’ve graduated, I am both a mentee and a mentor, but sometimes struggle to know how I can make the most of my relationships.

At the EQUALL Conference, Professor Herminia Ibarra of the London Business School spoke about the distinction between mentorship and sponsorship. In the words of Professor Ibarra, “a mentor is someone who has knowledge and will share it with you, a sponsor is a person who has power and will use it for you”. However, sponsorship and mentorship lie on either end of a spectrum, with behaviours between the two which are neither pure mentorship nor true sponsorship.

Image source: Herminia Ibarra, via Twitter.

Learning about the importance of true and valuable sponsors to women’s careers has inspired me to take two actions. First, I will endeavour to use my power, wherever possible, to assist others in being #ambitious where I believe in their potential and their project. In choosing to do this I am recognising that despite my junior status, I do have a certain amount of political capital that can influence decisions. Second, I will seek out sponsors in addition to mentors, and will be #brave enough to ask my supporters to vocalise their support in front of decision-makers.

If you would like to learn more about mentorship, sponsorship and the sliding scale that exists between them, Professor Ibarra’s article detailing the importance of sponsorship for women’s careers, published in the Harvard Business Review, is available to view on the Laidlaw Scholars’ Network here.

2. Promote people six months before they are ready

Laidlaw Foundation CEO Susanna Kempe spoke on a Women Trailblazers panel, sharing her own experiences and insights with conference attendees. One of the things she mentioned was a policy that Lord Laidlaw has when promoting employees: always promote people six months before they are ready to be promoted. The employee will always be stretching, #curious and learning, and will never be bored.

An internal report by Hewlett-Packard showed that women will only apply for a new position if they meet all the criteria for the role. Men, on the other hand, will apply if they meet 60% of the criteria.

Promotions are not looking so likely for me for the next couple of years, as I will be completing a two-year training contract, however I think there is plenty of scope to draw inferences from this to apply to my own life.

I will think of this to remind myself to stretch myself beyond my current skills and capacity. I will ask for more responsibility before I have developed all of the skills necessary to carry out that responsibility, and will be #determined to use the opportunity to learn and develop, as opposed to practicing what I already know. I will also use this promotion principle to remind myself, when I am delegating tasks, to entrust more responsibility to others, and have faith that they will stretch themselves and ask for help when they need it.

An image from the Trailblazers panel at the conference. Laidlaw Foundation CEO Susanna Kempe sits second from the left.

Laidlaw Foundation CEO Susanna Kempe was recently interviewed by Nikol Chen for The Good Leader, the Laidlaw Foundation’s podcast. You can find the interview, in which she talks about this promotion principle, here.

3. Using your personal agency

We often hear about the power of consumers to effect #extraordinary change on companies and their practices broadly in society – for example environmentally, as demonstrated by consumers pushing for micro-beads to be eliminated from beauty products. However, we do not always recognise our personal agency and the impact we can have within an organisation – this was another point touched on in the Women Trailblazers panel.

The advice from all the panellists was clear – if you hold a position within an organisation with poor diversity and culture, we as individuals do have power. If you are in a senior position, you can be #fast and take action to improve the diversity and culture by pushing for new policies and real change. If you are in a junior position without the clout to push new initiatives through, you can find another organisation to work for, and use your personal agency to walk away.

Thank you so much to Nikol for organising for me to attend the EQUALL Conference, and to the Laidlaw Foundation for providing the free tickets.

Which of these insights do you find most interesting? Will you be adopting any of these practices? I’d love to hear from you in the comments, or in a separate post!