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Black Employees Need More Sponsors – Here’s How to Be One

IntuitLife, Social Responsibility Black employee sitting at her desk

Since starting in my newly created role as Intuit’s first Director of Racial Equity, I am often asked, “What are the actions that employers can take to retain their Black talent?” With the increased focus on representation, since the globally televised murder of Mr. George Floyd, many companies have increased their recruiting efforts. In other words, Black people are a hot commodity on the employment market.

Because many of the most talented Black employees are currently a part of the Global workforce, recruiters and headhunters are working to remove these candidates from their current employers. Increases in base pay, signing bonuses, higher ranking titles and robust total compensation packages are catching the eye of many talented Black professionals. Recruiting more talented Black employees into your organization is great. However, if you can’t keep them, your recruiting efforts are for not.

Did you know that 71 percent of leaders pick proteges of the same race and gender? When sponsors choose proteges that look like themselves, it disproportionately affects people of color, who are less likely to be in leadership roles. We need to do more to change that statistic and we can all play a part in breaking that cycle.

One powerful way to retain top Black talent is sponsorship. Sponsors are expected to use their leadership capital to propel the career of their protégé by providing exposure, visibility, feedback, and advocacy. In talent discussions, executive sponsors should endorse these employees for career mobility moves and promotions that support their ascension to an executive position. Sponsors also receive benefits from these programs in the form of opportunity to understand and increase their awareness of the barriers talented Black employees face. 

Here are three ways you can be a sponsor to Black employees

1. Provide feedback and active coaching

Sponsors provide feedback on their protégés performance and development opportunities. Reach out to those working closely with your Black employees and ask them to provide timely and actionable feedback. Encourage them to be as specific as possible and to include examples that help the employee translate the feedback.

Your role as a sponsor is to help ensure that the feedback is understood so that it can be used as an actionable tool to help maximize the individual’s contribution to the business and help them grow.

2. Be an advocate

Black employees are often promoted less than their white counterparts. This is not based on performance issues and or skill gaps. This is because Black employees don’t have the visibility and exposure that their majority counterparts receive.

As a sponsor, make sure you’re present during important conversations, such as talent reviews. Part of your role is to represent on behalf of your protégé. Talk about their achievements, identify opportunities to lead high visibility projects, and support them every step of the way. Advocate for a promotion either within your team or on another team and recommend them for open roles that give them the work experience they’re looking for.  It’s better to move talented professionals within your company versus letting the external offers lead them away.

3. Identify career development opportunities 

Have regular, meaningful conversations with your Black employees about their goals and aspirations. Ask what their one year and five year goals look like. Understand where they want to go in their career and do your part to support them with immediate next steps. Career conversations should include discussions on geographic mobility and internal roles that the employee may be interested in. Do your part to eliminate any barriers and actively help open doors so they can successfully achieve their career aspirations both in the near future and well as help set them up for long-term success.

Part of your role as a sponsor is to help Black employees not only grow their career but share guidance on how to navigate the organization as well as address any other challenges the individual may face. 

True sponsorship goes beyond a title. 

Being a sponsor requires action. 

Sponsorship of Black employees is an intentional way to recognize and act on a segment of your employee population that has been overlooked and undervalued. Incorporating this into your existing retention strategy will create a stronger pipeline of high-performing talent and allow for upward movement. When Black employees can see other Black employees being sponsored, receiving opportunities, and advancing their careers, organizations see an increase in retention and engagement. 

If you have a seat at the table, sponsor a high performing Black employee —use your influence to make a difference.