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Women executives urged to sponsor young female employees

Women executives urged to sponsor young female employees

NEW YORK—If women hope to grow their share of senior executive positions in the corporate sector, a greater emphasis on individualized sponsorships of young female employees will be critical to their success, a panel of experts said last week at the 2011 Women to Watch Leadership Workshop in New York.

Women in upper management should strongly consider extending themselves beyond the scope of traditional mentoring relationships and develop more formal sponsorship arrangements with high-potential female recruits, several former Women to Watch honorees said at the conference.

“It's a step beyond mentoring,” said Carol Murphy, a managing director at Aon Brokerage Group in Chicago. Effective sponsorship, Ms. Murphy said, should entail a high measure of one-on-one outreach, career guidance and, when appropriate, endorsement for promotion or other opportunities.

“To be a sponsor, you have to have power, whether it's the power to promote people or just steer them to the right opportunities,” Ms. Murphy said. “Sponsorship is a more powerful advocacy of someone's career and of their skills.”

These relationships can be mutually beneficial, panelists said, particularly in industries that have seen comparatively low hiring of college graduate-aged women entering the workforce. Sponsorship programs can be an effective means of generating initial interest in the company and boosting retention of those employees over the long term, panelists said.

“Especially from a retention perspective regarding our employees, we think this is going to be imperative,” said LoriAnn Lowery-Biggers, the Dallas-based field operations president at the Navigators Group Inc. “The fight for talent, just in our industry alone, is absolutely massive. To be able to entice young women, it's incredibly important that they see there's a path for them to succeed, and there's someone to support them and help them along their career path.”

Ms. Murphy said while sponsorship for women is increasing in some industries, many young female employees still find it harder to obtain that form of specialized guidance than their male counterparts.

“The belief is that, typically, these types of relationships exist in greater number and more informally for male employees,” Ms. Murphy said. “It's very important to make those kinds of special initiatives available in order to break through that problem.”

PLUS: Meet the 2011 Business Insurance Women to Watch honorees.

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