Laura McGee (JD 2014) had been in the workforce for less than a year when she noticed how “outdated biases” about male-female working relationships – among both men and women – were limiting the career success of young women like herself. “Research shows that many men and women are reluctant to spend time alone together outside of work,” she says. “But business success is about building relationships, so these self-imposed rules make it harder to get ahead.”
Last year, McGee launched the #GoSponsorHer social media campaign with Megan Anderson (BComm 2014 St. Michael’s), a former colleague at McKinsey & Company. (They’ve both gone on to new ventures.) #GoSponsorHer asks male and female senior executives to “sponsor” – actively champion the career advancement of – a promising woman in their industry, post their pledge on a social media site such as Twitter and then issue the same challenge to two or three colleagues.
The problem that #GoSponsorHer aims to address, says McGee, is that women are half as likely as men to have sponsors in many business and professional fields. Research also shows that two-thirds of senior men and one-half of junior women are reluctant to form sponsorship relationships because they may be misconstrued as sexual. “The public nature of #GoSponsorHer gives people a safe space,” says McGee. “With the rise of the #MeToo movement, we’re doubling down on our campaign to try to avoid a chilling effect, where men avoid sponsoring women.”
The difference between sponsorship and mentorship, says McGee, is that a mentor talks to you, while a sponsor talks about you – showcasing your skills and successes. Her current sponsor is Mark D. Wiseman (JD/MBA 1996), a senior managing director at investment firm BlackRock, Inc., whose support has ranged from key introductions to direct advocacy. “He also spoke on an International Women’s Day panel I organized at Rotman,” she says. “It drew a huge crowd and really helped our cause. He even made a point to publicly praise my work on stage.”
Sponsors also use their networks to open doors. But McGee is quick to point out that sponsorship is not an act of charity, because women work hard for their sponsors by supporting their professional priorities. “I spent countless nights perfecting slide decks, gathering data for a project and going the extra mile for one of my first sponsors, for example, and he created many opportunities for me to get ahead,” she says.