The Life-Changing Power of Sponsorship in Diversity
Mentorship and sponsorship are different. Mentors are people who listen and advise, while sponsors open doors and lift you up. Mentors may tell you where the door is, but sponsors open the door. Sponsors have skin in the game and use their personal and professional capital to foster and provide opportunities.
Last night my husband and I were sitting in a sports bar in Cabo San Lucas while I was ruminating on how to write this blog post – romantic, I know…. Quite unexpectedly we struck up a conversation with the man next to us. He was a tall, lean man in his early 50s, and his name was Lieutenant Jason Pierce. Lt. Pierce was sitting at a table of much younger, purposefully polite men.
We asked him about himself and he gave us a very surprising answer:
“Well, although I plan to stay longer, in six months I am eligible to retire from the San Jose, California Police Department, and these young men are my legacy.”
In unison we replied to tell us more!
“About three years ago we realized we needed to diversify our police department, but we didn’t have a pipeline. So, we turned to the police academy in New York where they had a pipeline of diverse prospective candidates several years long. (Gesturing at the table, Lt. Pierce continued) I went to New York and told all of these young men that if they followed me to California, I would guide them through the different steps of the recruiting, application, and hiring process. They followed me.”
As you can imagine, we were astounded, and asked him to tell us more.
Lt. Pierce said he was honored that they trusted and followed him, and that he takes their success personally. Lt. Pierce then explained that he set them up so they could live two or three to a house, use their first paycheck in a month to pay bills, and second to save for the future. He was teaching these young diverse police officers to save, invest in 401Ks, work hard, live with integrity, and take vacations. In fact, Lt. Pierce used his personal capital – all of his timeshare points for several years – to bring these young men to Cabo where he’d rented 9 rooms for a week of bonding.
Diverse candidates can often find mentors, but have trouble finding sponsors. It is common and comforting for a diverse candidate to get set up with a mentor early in their career, and then disappointing when that mentor disappears. Some mentors might see these relationships as transactional obligations, “forced” mentor-mentee relationships, or willing low-risk volunteer opportunities. For diverse candidates, finding someone to bridge the gap between mentorship and sponsorship in a meaningful way is rare.
Lt. Pierce took a personal interest in each of them. He did more than tell them where the door was. He was a true sponsor. He modeled the way, walked them through the door, and helped them build a life-long support system. If you get the chance to be like Lt. Pierce and change a life – do it! You won’t regret it, and your life will be richer!