The Sponsor Effect: How to Increase Diversity at the Leadership Level

Only around a third of multicultural professionals feel as if they are getting the boost they need. But TD's helping to change that.

This statistic comes from the first study done of its kind in Canada – a study that TD, the Center for Talent Innovation (CTI) and Bhasin Consulting Inc. (BCI) have been working on for the past two years.

According to the new report, only 29 per cent of women, people of colour, LGBTA, people with disabilities, and Indigenous professionals who participated in the study feel like they are likely to be advocated for by senior management in the workplace. By using a series of focus groups and interviews – this new research aims to help big companies even the playing field. 

What this new study found is that sponsorship can make a world of difference. Sponsors are senior colleagues that vouch for, and believe in, the leadership potential of their "protégé," advocate for their next promotion, and defend them if they stumble – according to the study.

When it comes to diversity and inclusion, we like to lead. TD provides one-on-one mentorship opportunities for diverse professionals with executives, scouts the broadest possible talent, encourages multicultural employee networks, and much more. And in 2017, our Bank was named one of Canada’s Best Diversity Employers for the sixth year in a row – and that's something the Bank intends to continue. 

But the work isn't done yet, and this important study is another way TD is committed to uncovering concrete methods to support diverse leadership. 

"As a leader, you can't always provide clear-cut solutions to help people achieve their career aspirations," said Kelvin Tran, Senior Vice President and Chief Auditor at TD, and Chair of TD's Visible Minority Committee. "But you can be present and be a champion for people you believe in. It may take up your precious time, but it is well worth it."

Inclusive sponsorship is vital, but in Canada it's still pretty rare. Just three per cent of people of colour who participated in the survey acknowledged getting the sponsorship opportunities that would propel them into leadership roles, according to the study. And many in senior positions who identify as sponsors – tend to sponsor people like themselves. 

Seventy-four per cent of men in senior management who responded to the survey said at least one of their sponsors is of the same gender, and 66 per cent said they sponsor someone of the same race or ethnicity.

The study also found that people of colour are more likely to get advice from senior colleagues on soft elements, like appearance or achieving gravitas, versus hard elements like advocating for a promotion. 

The real push they need is the “sponsor effect”—the turbo charge necessary to break through to senior management. It's critical for all companies to understand how to launch more people with disabilities, women, people of colour, LGBTA, and Indigenous colleagues into leadership roles, and understand what sometimes prevents them from getting there. 

"Our journey will only be successful if we all share the responsibility of creating the best employee experience for everyone," said Tran.

To learn more about TD's commitment to Inclusion and Diversity check out on Our Diversity Mission at