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A study conducted by the nonprofit think tank Center for the Talent Innovation (CTI) found that mentoring and sponsorship often happen between a senior leader and someone he or she “feels comfortable” with. The CTI also found that only 23% of self-described sponsors have a protégé with a different management style or skill set than their own and 71% have a protégé who are of the same sex or race.

According to data from the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), white men still hold the most number of managerial position. Only about 34% of middle managers are women and 27% are non-Caucasian.

CTI co-founder and chair emeritus Sylvia Ann Hewlett has observed that most sponsors look for a Mini-Me in choosing their protégé which can hurt improving diversity. In her book The Sponsor Effect: How to Be a Better Leader by Investing in Others, Hewlett explained the benefits and advantages of sponsorships. She said senior managers with protégés are 53% more likely to be promoted than those without a protégé and sponsorship of young talents have helped companies recruit crucial talent, conquer social media and open up new markets.

Hewlett’s advice to managers is to see their team with new eyes and seek to cultivate their teams abilities and skills to make a significant impact on the company or the industry. Managers should choose a protégé based on enthusiasm, performance and commitment to the organization and not because of their similarities. They can also ask for recommendations from other employees to better evaluate a potential protégé.

Mentoring software maker MentorcliQ’s chief of talent and diversity Jenn Labin added that managers should try to “get comfortable with the uncomfortable.” A little awkwardness at the start is okay as long as you are mentoring the employee with the most potential to help the company. She also mentioned that some sponsors or mentors hesitate to choose a protégé from a different sexual orientation, race of gender for fear of accidentally making an offensive mistake during a conversation.

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