Jill is an African American woman with ten years of experience in
public accounting. She is certified and versatile in the areas of practice in
which she might contribute now and in the future.  She has deep community roots in the major metropolitan area in which she works and she has shown great promise in promoting the Firm in the market.  She has demonstrated ability to target in on very valid and significant business development opportunities. 
She is liked by her peers and develops the people on her teams.  She also plans to leave the Firm and possibly public accounting altogether. 
What is wrong with this picture?

Jill feels as if she works tirelessly to stay connected in the
Firm and to expand her network. She has been successful in this regard and is
networked and capable of tapping into opportunities.  She feels she has to prove herself every day when she walks through the door and again if she is working toward a significant opportunity in the Firm or the market. She feels when she speaks she must work much harder to be heard and to be taken seriously.   She feels that her superiors are not connected to her and that she is not on their radar screen.  She has observed the favoritism or advocacy circles that drive the
assignment of opportunities, promotions and pay increases.  She has managed to tap into these organizational circles from time to time, but also notes that she has to assimilate in order to stay connected. She is uncomfortable with the degree of assimilation required.  She understands that this assimilation also limits the value she may bring to the Firm. She has come to the conclusion that the energy she is pouring into trying to fit into the organization could be better applied to her work if she was in a more inclusive environment.  Her
exploration of the Public Accounting marketplace has turned up few options upon
deep research.  She knows she has many career options.  She cannot
envision herself on the outside trying to gain access daily for the undefined
and long term future.   This is a very difficult career path without taking into account the need to break into circles of influence that others do not have to work at to gain access.
 
The sustainability of our Firms is dependent upon attracting,
retaining and developing the best talent. 
A significant portion of this talent is represented by individuals who
represent something different then our current partner ranks. 
Our ability to develop and bring new solutions to new markets is
dependent on our success in creating an inclusive culture that supports a very broad level of diversity.  Diversity in thought, lifestyle, ethnicity, gender, education, socioeconomic experience and much more. 
Creating an inclusive culture can be accomplished with targeted
effort.  How do we attract, retain
and develop the individuals who represent the change we need for the future
while we continue to work on our culture?  

What can an organization do now to retain and develop top talent
like Jill?  One of the most important strategies that an organization can employ is targeted advocacy.  In our profession advocacy
relationships drive talent development and career navigation. 
These relationships are a natural part of our organizations and have been
so for decades.  Advocates not only understand how to navigate through an organization to access key opportunities and networks at the most appropriate junctures of a career but they also use political capital to facilitate these moves for their protégés.  Advocates also help the protégés to become visible in ways that individuals cannot do for themselves.  These relationships exist and drive our
  profession.  These relationships are essential for election to owner which is one of the ultimate career destinations in our profession.   

It is critical to note that for individuals who represent
  something different from the norm, the advocacy relationships do not form as
  naturally as they do for the majority group. Human beings are drawn to individuals who remind us of ourselves, those we can identify with. 
This is especially true of advocacy relationships that may form naturally
in public accounting Firms.  This is significant and an important element in Jill’s story.  How can a person like Jill reach the conclusion that the price to pay for
success in public accounting is too high?   As an experienced partner in a public
accounting Firm, I would be the first person to acknowledge the road is long and
challenging.  We expect to work hard to attain this goal. What is
lost on those of us who may represent the majority is that the path is not the
same for those who are diverse, those who may represent our future. 
The path is much harder every day. 
When we hear that these individuals do not want to do what it takes to
succeed we must understand that in significant ways we are asking them to do
more then we have had to do.  This is true in many Firms for women, minorities, those with different educational or socioeconomic experiences, those with different lifestyles, or those that represent any significant difference that currently requires the individual to suppress in order to assimilate and be accepted. If you are a member of the majority and dominant group, the need to suppress fundamental elements of who you are to succeed may sound like fiction. Those who represent diversity in the ranks of your Firm would assure you that the energy it takes to try to be a fully accepted and engaged member of the Firm is
significant.

Advocacy relationships must be in place for all of our top talent.  If left to chance, the relationships will most likely not be in place for the individuals who
represent a critical part of our future because they represent something
different.  Targeted Advocacy Programs are not difficult to implement. 
The ripple effect benefit of these programs is immense. 
One method of shifting culture is to work closely with those individuals
who represent the future.  Bias is generally unconscious.  Bias begins
to break down as we gain personal experience interacting with individuals. Both the advocate and the protégé learn from these relationships.   


 
 
There is a lot of buzz about the need for advocacy or sponsorship relationships as opposed to mentor relationships.  What is the difference?

The most significant difference between mentors and advocates is the level of active involvement in the career of the protoge. Sponsors and advocates are in a position of influence in the organziation.  Sponsor/advocates are also close enough to the protoges career trajectory AND personal goals to clearly see in detail where the protoge should be focusing their efforts in the near future to accomplish THEIR professional (and sometimes life) goals.   In addition the sponsor/advocate is  in position to be able to influence the opportunities the protoge has access to and is willing to actively "advocate" or "sponsor" this individual by placing personal reputation and political capital on the line in support of the protoge.  Lets face it, if we recommend someone for an assigment, promotion, raise, committee, opportunity of any kind- we put a portion of our reputation on the line. This is the primary difference between mentors and sponsor/advocates.  Many people have mentors who in fact have been playing the sponsor/advocate role -many times without the knowledge of the protoge.  Until we are insiders of the leadership team we often are unaware of how prevalent the sponsor/advocacy system is.

The sponsor/advocate also plays the role of education, awareness raising and skill building which may be common to mentor relationships.  One of the most challenging things about career progression is understanding exactly what you should be doing when , how to procure these assignments for yourself and how to ensure the right people know you are doing the right things.  These steps cannot be accomplished independently in most organizations.  Hence the need for sponsor/advocates.