New research highlights the unconscious bias that exists when white male leaders sponsor or advocate for “people like themselves.”

Just how important are sponsorships in the workplace?

As it turns out, those who have a sponsor are paid 11.6 percent more than those who do not, according to new research from PayScale Inc. Perhaps not surprisingly, for men, the “sponsorship premium” is even higher: 12.3 percent compared to women at 10.2 percent.

The just-released findings from the report, titled Sponsors: Valuable Allies that Not Everyone Has, highlight the unconscious bias that exists in most organizations where white male leaders sponsor or advocate for “people like themselves,” meaning other white males. “As a result of this human bias, female employees—and particularly female employees of color—are left behind when it comes to compensation,” the report states.

The new report “shines a light on the fact that white, male leaders should actively look for opportunities to advocate for people who don’t look like them,” says PayScale Director Wendy Brown. “Human bias is entrenched in the workplace and sponsorship programs that don’t address it will result in the continued prevalence of primarily white, male leadership on our nation’s boards and executive teams.”

Additional findings from PayScale’s “Sponsors: Valuable Allies that Not Everyone Has” report:

  • The gender of your sponsor matters:
    • Females who have female sponsors make 14.6 percent less than females who have male sponsors.
    • Males who have female sponsors make 8.7 percent less than males who have male sponsors.
  • Black and Hispanic women are least likely to have sponsors:
    • At least 60 percent of respondents overall said they have an advocate at work; however, only 55 percent of black and Hispanic women reported having an advocate.
    • For comparison, 62.5 percent of white men reported having an advocate in the workplace.
  • Women of color who have sponsors of the same race/ethnicity tend to have lower pay than women of color who have a white sponsor:
    • Black women who have black sponsors make 11.3 percent less than those who have white sponsors.
    • Hispanic women with Hispanic sponsors make 15.5 percent less than Hispanic women with white sponsors.

“We can’t want better diversity without disrupting the patterns that already exist,” says Amelia Ransom, senior director of engagement and diversity at Avalara. “Leaders should proactively ask about people they don’t hear much about. Don’t just tell me about the rock stars who already exist, tell me about the ones you’re creating—particularly those who are underrepresented.”

According to the Harvard Law School Forum on Corporate Governance and Financial Regulation Missing Pieces Report, “1,033 board seats were filled by directors new to Fortune 500 boards (i.e., those not present on boards in the 2016 census). Of those 1,033 board seats, 80.7 percent were filled by Caucasian/white directors, with 59.6 percent filled by Caucasian/white men.”

In addition to employers taking action, women can be proactive in seeking out people in positions of influence who may not look like them, but who may also be able to make their business-impacting accomplishments more widely known. A separate Harvard Business Review report shows that when minorities advocate for fellow minorities, they are often either dismissed or categorized as “racist” for advocating for people of color who look like them.  Black women often choose other black women to act as their advocates, but research shows that this approach may not lead to career advancement—a result that, in the technology sector, has caused many women to leave the industry all together.

“Sponsorship programs can be an important component of landing higher-paying management jobs,” Brown says, “so it’s critical for companies to have a formalized plan to ensure women of color have equal access to sponsors who will advocate for them when decisions are being made about career advancement and pay raises.”

Web Editor Michael J. O’Brien has been with HRE for more than a decade and holds a degree in economics from Boston College. He can be reached at [email protected]

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