How to support career sponsorship

10 October 2022

Workplaces that support best-practice career sponsorship are collaborative, collegial and inclusive. They have cultures that share knowledge and work to enhance the careers of all as a collective endeavour. So, what are the characteristics of such a workplace, and how can they be achieved?

This article draws on the Champions of Change Sponsorship Toolkit, which in turn draws on a number of guides developed for other disciplines – particularly Sponsorship: Creating Career Opportunities for Women in Higher Education, by Jennifer de Vries and Jennifer Binns (Universities Australia Executive Women, 2018).

This is part of the Stepping Up editorial program, which aims to share knowledge and experiences from the Champions of Change Architecture Group with the architecture and built environment practices more broadly.

“Sponsorship works best in a culture that supports relationship building, where people are part of a community of colleagues and professional development needs are prioritised.” — Jennifer de Vries and Jennifer Binns, Sponsorship: Creating Career Opportunities for Women in Higher Education


To be viable and effective in the long term, career sponsorship needs to be recognised as a key component of career progression, one that is fundamental to the development of individuals, teams and the practice (and profession) as a whole. This starts by acknowledging that sponsorship is most probably already occurring in ad hoc ways and understanding that this can be a vehicle for bias and unequal opportunity.

The next step is to establish cultures, processes and habits that promote and support collaborative and inclusive approaches to career sponsorship. This article outlines the characteristics of workplaces that support this and offers an outline of what can be done by practices, leaders and individuals to achieve it.

This article extracts a set of strategies developed by Jennifer de Vries and Jennifer Binns in their outstanding 2018 guide to sponsorship within the university sector, Sponsorship: Creating Career Opportunities for Women in Higher Education. Many of the recommendations are directly relevant to architectural practice and the Champions of Change Architecture Group has adapted them for architecture practices and the profession.

Suggestions are offered at three scales – the development of organisational processes and cultures, opportunities for leaders to actively embrace and support career sponsorship, and strategies for individuals to make the most of sponsorship as they build their careers.

This article covers:



De Vries and Binns identify the following core characteristics of workplaces that support best-practice cultures as a collaborative and legitimised business practice. In these environments all leaders are expected and enabled to sponsor others.

Decision-making processes

Sponsorship strategies are developed and implemented collaboratively, involving shared resources and knowledge.

Selection processes

Sponsorship is inclusive and tailored to individual needs – everyone is assisted to reach their potential.


Leaders are held accountable, and the risk of bias and exploitation is managed through clear expectations and group processes.

Motivating factors

Sponsorship decisions are underpinned by clear expectations of leader responsibilities, outcomes and desired behaviours.


Sponsorship occurs in an open, predictable way – everyone knows what to expect.


Leaders are supported, rewarded and valued for their sponsorship actions/outcomes.


Sponsorship outcomes are optimised through collaborative effort to harness the capability and resources of the entire workplace.



De Vries and Binns outline a six-step process to help organisations develop the culture and systems to support fair, inclusive and equitable sponsorship. The Champions of Change Architecture Group has adapted key components that can be used in architectural practice as part of a suite of interventions to address inequity.

1. Commit and communicate

  • Prioritise the development and improvement of sponsorship initiatives.
  • Allocate adequate resources (time, personnel, money) to this priority.
  • Publicise the commitment to improve sponsorship processes.
  • Raise awareness of the issues – including the reason for focussing on women and underrepresented or marginalised groups.
  • Outline strategy and key actions.
  • Consult widely – use a variety of methods to enable input from all staff.

2. Map the current situation

  • Have a clear picture of how sponsorship occurs already, identify what is being done well and address areas of weakness.
  • Understand who has access to projects, roles or tasks that are key to building a successful career (for example high profile projects)
  • Collect evidence of any lack of progress through critical transition points.
  • Identify ineffective sponsorship practices that are not aligned with the practice’s values (including favouritism, exclusion and inconsistency).
  • Determine priority areas to address.

3. Set expectations and create accountability

  • Establish fair and transparent processes for distributing opportunities.
  • Review current values, drivers and reward systems, and discuss with leaders how to better align these systems to support effective career sponsorship.
  • Acknowledge, value and reward leaders who are excellent developers of their staff.

4. Develop knowledge and skills

  • Incorporate sponsorship awareness into staff development programs, such as leadership development, mentoring programs and unconscious bias training.

5. Embed in cultures

  • Regularly celebrate and acknowledge all kinds of staff achievement, not just major milestones.
  • Make social activities as inclusive and accessible as possible to a broad cross-section of employees. Note: if most social activities are scheduled after-hours and involve the serving of alcohol and/or playing sport, many people won’t be able to participate due to family responsibilities, religious beliefs and/or health issues.
  • Ensure there are opportunities for knowledge and experience sharing within and beyond project teams (for example, peer mentoring groups).

6. Review progress; identify and assess gaps

  • Continue to use existing process to collect and interrogate data regarding sponsorship practices (for example, staff development records, promotions, allocations to project types, and bid teams).
  • Monitor progress and identify gaps.
  • Renew commitment and actions.



Establishing supportive sponsorship cultures requires action from leaders and from the people that make up the practice. De Vries and Binns offer a set of considerations for leaders and for individuals, which have been adapted by the Champions of Change Architecture Group for architectural practice.

1. Take stock – reflect and inquire

Reflect on the following questions:
  • Do I sponsor everyone in my team? Who is missing out?
  • How do I make decisions about who to sponsor? What biases influence my decisions?
  • Do I always sponsor the star in my group at the expense of others who need the opportunity to further their careers?
  • Do I sponsor under-represented groups?
  • Do I vary my sponsorship practice to suit individual needs, aspirations and circumstances?
  • When I give someone a career opportunity, do I also provide follow up support and guidance?
  • Do I ‘dump’ tasks or responsibilities in the name of sponsorship?
Inquire about the following
  • Examine practice data to assist in identifying sponsorship gaps.
  • Include sponsorship in staff development discussions.
  • Check that the sponsorship you provide fits with an individual’s career aspirations – don’t make assumptions about what is best for them.

2. Strengthen your sponsorship practices

  • Take action to address gaps and inequities revealed through your inquiry.
  • Reflect on your sponsorship practices on an ongoing basis.
  • Undertake unconscious bias training.
  • Ask a colleague to act as a sounding board – pick someone who is not like you.
  • Ask other leaders about their sponsorship practices and incorporate good ideas into your own efforts.
  • Routinely discuss staff sponsorship needs with a small management team rather than making decisions by yourself.
  • Diversify your networks to include people who are different to you/might challenge your thinking.

3. Be a sponsorship advocate

  • Name sponsorship wherever you see it (good and bad).
  • Challenge unfair and inequitable practices.
  • Model reflexive sponsorship practices.
  • Acknowledge how sponsorship has helped your own career. Making sponsorship visible in this way helps debunk the common view that successful careers are either just good luck or self made.



De Vries and Binns point out that understanding how sponsorship works empowers people to enhance their own careers and the careers of others. They offer a set of considerations to assist.

1. Conduct a personal sponsorship scan to understand how sponsorship works in your career

  • Ask yourself the following: Who sponsors me? What kinds of career opportunities do they provide? What additional opportunities do I need? How can I get those opportunities and from whom?

2. Observe and inquire how sponsorship works in the careers of others

  • Open up discussions about sponsorship in your workplace.
  • Ask colleagues about the role of sponsorship in their careers.
  • Observe the sponsorship practices of leaders in your workplace.

3. Seek sponsorship

  • Articulate your ambitions and ask to be sponsored.
  • Strengthen current sponsorship relationships – acknowledge and show appreciation.
  • Seek out higher level tasks that can boost your career.
  • Increase your visibility – speak up, ask questions, introduce yourself, network, socialise with colleagues.
  • Join and contribute to professional bodies.

4. Develop your sponsorship practices

  • Think about the actions you can take within your sphere of influence. Remember that sponsoring others will also contribute to achieving your own career goals. Being visible as a sponsor increases the likelihood of being noticed and sponsored by more senior people.

5. Be a sponsorship advocate

  • Name sponsorship wherever you see it (good and bad).
  • Challenge unfair and inequitable practices.
  • Acknowledge how sponsorship has helped your own career. Making sponsorship visible in this way helps debunk the common view that successful careers are either just good luck or self made.



For more information, see What is Career Sponsorship and Why does it Matter? and Parlour’s Light at the End of the Tunnel session on Career Progression and Sponsorship with Natalie Galea and Sophie Olsen.

This article was compiled by Justine Clark as part of a set that draws on the Sponsorship Toolkit, created by the Champions of Change Architecture Group. Valuable assistance was given by Monica Edwards of the Champions of Change Architecture Group Advocacy and Comms Focus Group.

The Champions of Change Architecture Group Sponsorship Toolkit was developed by Karen Sangster (Le Provost) with Monica Edwards and Alex Small. It was closely informed by Sponsorship: Creating Career Opportunities for Women in Higher Education by Jennifer de Vries and Jennifer Binns (Universities Australia Executive Women, 2018)

Stepping Up is a collaboration between the ACA, Parlour and the Champions of Change Architecture Group.