Business leaders are signing on to #GoSponsorHer

A social media challenge has attracted prominent executives keen to help women advance their careers.
YPO's Sunir Chandaria (left), #GoSponsorHer co-founder Laura McGee, YPO's Debby Carreau

YPO’s Sunir Chandaria (left), #GoSponsorHer founder Laura McGee, YPO’s Debby Carreau

A number of Canada’s CEOs and business leaders are officially pledging to help women’s executive careers as YPO Canada has thrown its support behind the #GoSponsorHer initiative.

YPO (originally founded in 1950 as the Young Presidents’ Organization) is a 24,000-member global organization with more than 800 members in Canada.

The #GoSponsorHer program, much like the immensely popular Ice Bucket Challenge, asks CEOs to choose a “high-performing” female professional to sponsor, share a photo on social with the sponsoree, and challenge another business leader to do the same.

But where the Ice Bucket Challenge required only a moment of discomfort and a donation to help cure ALS, this program’s sponsorship is an ongoing relationship. It involves mentoring, providing access to personal networks and generally aiding career advancement over time.

“Sponsorship is more than mentorship,”says Sunir Chandaria, chair of YPO Canada, in a release. “It means continuous support for your sponsoree and better reflects the active effort needed to unlock high-potential talent. The nature of our reach proposes that we will have huge impact as our members fully and truly commit to sponsoring future leaders. We believe that #GoSponsorHer is the right partner for this effort because it promotes sponsorship of women, who are 46% less likely to have a senior sponsor than men.”

Debby Carreau, CEO of Inspired HR, a member of YPO’s global board and chair of its women’s network, told strategy that women often don’t self-advocate, despite being as hardworking and capable as their male peers. “They believe if they work hard, they’ll get promoted as a result. But in the business world, it’s as much about hard work as it is being visible and people knowing what your objectives are.”

A 2016 study from McKinsey & Company showed that while 75% of Canada’s CEO list diversity as a top-10 priority, women make up less than 20% of all c-suite jobs, and only 6% of Canadian CEOs are women.

While some industries have seen progress in keep women engaged long enough to take leadership positions (McKinsey data shows retail, pharmaceutical and professional services industries with relatively high female representation), Carreau says the change is too slow. “By having a senior leader advocate for them, it gives them that visibility and credibility they may not be getting for themselves,” sheu says.

YPO has set a goal of having 90 of its members involved in #GoSponsorHer by the fall. The list of participants so far includes Facebook Canada managing director Jordan Banks, Deloitte Canada CEO and managing director Frank Vettese, and OMERS Ventures CEO John Ruffolo.