How a Lack of Sponsorship Keeps Black Women Out of the C-Suite, Part 2— Stephanie Bradley Smith

Talking Trends
3 min readSep 1, 2021
Stephanie Bradley Smith

I recently wrote an article for the Harvard Business Review, How a Lack of Sponsorship Keeps Black Women Out of the C-Suite. An expert on the development, positioning, and coaching for success, I’m also an opportunity creator for women of color. In this article, I talk about the important role of sponsorship in ascending the corporate ladder, and a lack thereof for Black women. The first part of the article focuses on my year-long research project regarding the same. Read the latter part below, which discusses the path forward in improving sponsorship for Black women.

The Path Forward

While U.S. corporations wax frequently about the diversity imperative and the importance of having organizations that reflect the growing minority populous, too few act on this sentiment. It is time to understand and acknowledge the power dynamic that prevents Black women from reaching the top seat of corporations, or until recently, reaching the top seat only one at a time. Regardless of education, motivation, and personal and professional success factors, being sponsored by a white man remains the primary accelerant to the career mobility of Black women.

Given the findings, the essential question to ask is, “What can be done to propel more Black women into the higher echelons of corporations?” Here’s where to start.

  • Re-imagine the diversity imperative. Eliminate the myriad ways in which diversity training and awareness within companies has become diluted through distractions, such as “diversity of thought and place.” Level the playing field of fairness and equity for Black women by focusing first and foremost on whether they are represented and supported at the highest levels of the organization in successor positions.
  • Audit succession plans annually. Do bench charts reflect a diverse pool of talent who are within striking distance of assuming critical jobs? Are there concrete plans for developing diverse talent and ensuring diverse talent attains the career experiences that will enable readiness for critical jobs?
  • Bring sponsorship into the open. To be effective, this relationship can be neither one-sided nor clandestine. Train all high-level executives on sponsorship: what it is and how to be an effective sponsor of Black women.
  • Reward sponsorship. Those who sponsor Black women should be recognized as contributors to positive organizational citizenship. Sponsors groom those who are considered among the most prized talent of the organization, leading to their accelerated development and long-term engagement and retention.
  • Examine the barriers to CEO succession for Black women. Identify and analyze the factors or attributes that influence the assessment and selection of CEOs to determine the presence of intersectional (race and gender) bias

The paucity of Black executive women at the top of organizations offers indisputable proof that current methods of talent development and succession planning are woefully lacking. The talent pool exists. With sponsorship, true diversity; that is, broader racial and ethnic representation inclusive of Black women can be achieved.”

Read the original article here.


Stephanie Bradley Smith is a business executive who specializes in the field of Human Resources and believes that the most crucial ingredient to success is talent. “You may have a genius idea, but without people willing and able to bring it to fruition, you’ll never achieve your goals.” Her areas of expertise are executive succession, leadership development, and organizational effectiveness.



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