MasterCard, Target & Comcast: Your How-To Guide for Executive Resource-Group Sponsorship

May 5, 2014 9:08 pm

DiversityInc's Resource-Group Executive Sponsorship GuideExecutive sponsors—usually direct reports to the CEO or members of the senior-leadership team—give resource groups business influence within their companies.

DiversityInc recommends that senior leaders serve as executive sponsors for these reasons:

  • They keep the groups focused on business goals.
  • They serve as role models and mentors for group members.
  • They know how to navigate the corporate culture to help the groups succeed.
  • They can find and develop talent.

Who is Eligible for Executive Sponsorship?

Executive sponsors are usually at the highest level of the company—most often direct reports to the CEO. This is critical as DiversityInc’s white paper on resource groups found that in 89 percent of companies surveyed, executive sponsors identify business opportunities for the resource groups.

At health insurer Health Care Service Corporation (HCSC), No. 19 in the 2012 DiversityInc Top 50, executive sponsors are all at the senior-vice-president level and above. They are part of President and CEO Patricia Hemingway Hall’s management team and all attend weekly senior-leadership-team meetings. Says Senior Vice President and Chief Diversity Officer Carolyn Clift, “I am a part of the senior-leadership team, so I’m in these meetings as well. If the executive sponsors don’t mention their [resource groups], I can mention them. This is part of our regular senior-leadership-team dialogue and conversation.”

The chief diversity officer often selects sponsors from among the senior-leadership team. Alternatively, resource groups may request a particular sponsor or a potential sponsor may request a specific group.

At HCSC, when a new group forms, Clift works with the group leads to identify a representative from senior leadership with whom they’d be interested in working.

At MasterCard Worldwide, No. 15 , the company’s resource groups choose their own executive sponsors, most of whom are members of the company’s executive committee (direct reports to the CEO). “The leads approach the [potential] executive sponsor, give their business case, and gain their agreement to be the sponsor,” says Chief Diversity Officer Donna Johnson.

A collaborative approach is taken at Northrop Grumman, No. 42, where executive sponsors can either be nominated by vice presidents of HR or identified by the resource group, says Sylvester Mendoza, corporate director of Diversity & Inclusion and EEO.

A nomination process to select sponsors is used at Target, No. 30. “The process takes into consideration how a nominee engages and inspires others and their broader commitment to and passion for diversity and inclusion,” says Kim Strong, vice president of Diversity and Inclusion.

Do Executive Sponsors Serve for a Defined Term?

Some companies allow executive sponsors to serve indefinitely. In cases where terms are limited, they usually last a minimum of two years to allow for a ramping-up period and time to produce results.

At Rockwell Collins, No. 43, resource-group sponsors will rotate in 2013, when the original sponsors will have been in their roles for up to six years. “Initially, it was incumbent upon us to use our core-business-line presidents and owners to sponsor [the groups], to show commitment, to help them understand these populations a lot better, and to help drive accountability,” says Director of Diversity and Workforce Effectiveness Joy Fitzgerald. “I think we are at a good place now to rotate some of these positions and help [sponsors] have better insight of another group.”

Northrop Grumman and Target both opt for two-year terms for executive sponsors. Target’s Strong notes that “retiring” executive sponsors play a role in on-boarding their successors.

What Qualities Do CDOs Look For in Executive Sponsors?

The people we interviewed tell us that along with a senior-leadership role, executive sponsors should help the resource group align its goals with business objectives and strategies, help members navigate the corporate culture, and introduce group members to the right contacts to help them achieve their goals. Having emotional intelligence is also important.

  • Sponsors should relate to their groups what is going on across the enterprise. “This is a key benefit for group members who may only know about what is going on in their own business unit,” HCSC’s Clift says.
  • MasterCard’s Johnson speaks of passion as a key attribute of a successful executive sponsor. “These leaders are glad to have the opportunity to find the jewels in their employee base,” she says.
  • Northrop Grumman’s Mendoza notes that the executive sponsor should be very collaborative, “someone who can work behind the scenes and provide guidance around the political and cultural landscape of the organization.”

What Type of Training Should Executive Resource-Group Sponsors Receive?

DiversityInc’s white paper on resource groups found that 89 percent of companies surveyed train their executive sponsors in advance. The most prevalent type of training is cultural-competency training, but some companies offer leadership training as well.

Rockwell Collins uses a web-based tool called Country Navigator to help employees understand differences among countries throughout the world. The cultural-competency training is an element of the company’s leadership-development roadmap and is provided to senior leaders as part of the company’s increasingly global focus.

For resource groups whose primary dimension of diversity is not cultural or ethnic, the company uses other tools. For its Millennials group, for example, Rockwell Collins provides coaching relative to some of the unique needs that this group may have and to the role the sponsor is expected to play.

At Comcast Corporation, one of DiversityInc’s 25 Noteworthy Companies, the simultaneous launch of eight resource groups at the same time earlier this year presented a natural opportunity for executive-sponsor orientation/training. “We presented to [the executive sponsors] our vision and our strategic mission to make sure the groups were there to provide access, exposure, to increase employee engagement, inclusion and awareness, but we also want to make sure that we combine our diversity and [resource] group initiatives with the needs of the business,” says Maria Arias, executive director of Diversity and Inclusion.

Are Sponsors Always Cross-Cultural?

It is highly recommended that executive sponsors be cross-cultural, based on data analysis of results (promotions, engagement) and anecdotal evidence.

  • At Rockwell Collins, says Fitzgerald, there is a mix of cross-cultural and same-culture sponsors based on some of the company’s workforce demographics at its Cedar Rapids, Iowa, location. “We have been asked by [some] groups to have leadership that is representative of that group, because in many cases, they need visibility to know that these position levels are attainable for people like them,” she says. “And they feel that there’s more of an opportunity to understand how that particular individual migrated in their career, given the fact that in many cases they were the only person in a team setting in a group that represented that dimension of diversity.”
  • Comcast has three sponsors for each group: Two are from the same background and the third is cross-cultural, says Arias.

Are Executive Sponsors Compensated or Rewarded for their Roles?

At the six companies whose CDOs we interviewed, executive sponsors receive no additional compensation for their role. At some companies, serving as a sponsor can be a way to meet a performance goal of demonstrating commitment to diversity through specific behavior. The performance goal is tied to assessment and overall performance rating, but other activities can also satisfy this goal.

DiversityInc 2012 Top 50 data show that companies that link compensation to diversity goals have higher rates of management promotions—38 percent more Blacks, 84 percent more Asians, 28 percent more Latinos and 44 percent more women—than companies that do not make this connection.

  •  The Diversity Scorecard at Rockwell Collins includes specific goals, including a resource-group goal, says Fitzgerald. This is an enterprise-wide goal that, if met, benefits the whole senior-leadership team. “We look at what percentage of our organization is involved in [a resource group], then we look at development moves and promotional opportunities in relation to those who are not part of a group to see if there is better retention,” she says. “That is tied to our sponsors’ performance. Even though all of our business-unit heads aren’t sponsors, because they’re all on our executive diversity council, they have accountability to ensure that they meet all of those goals, regardless of what group they’re sponsoring.”
  •  At Comcast’s NBCUniversal, which has seven resource groups, although there are currently no formal metrics tying executive sponsorship to performance, group performance is very strongly tied to business initiatives. Craig Robinson, executive vice president and chief diversity officer of NBCUniversal, says this link will likely lead to measurable goals for executive sponsors in the future.“Earlier this year, we pulled all of our chapter leaders together [about 85 people], and we assigned each group a business priority that was coming up—whether it was a launch of a movie or the launch of a network—and said to them, ‘You have particular sensitivity to this group. What could you offer to help the business support it? What are we missing in our marketing plan? What are we missing in our analysis?’ We will be measuring the group’s success, and the [sponsor’s] success, on how they were able to support the particular business initiative,” says Robinson.