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BKD’s SKY Sponsor-Protégé Program Leads to New Promotions, Projects & Expanded Network

According to a significant study from McKinsey & Company and LeanIn.Org called 2019 Women in the Workplace, more and more women are earning leadership positions around the country. But ultimately, women still face underrepresentation at all professional levels. 

SKY, BKD’s firmwide diversity initiative, aims to create a fair and just workplace for all BKD employees regardless of gender, sex, race and all other demographics. In December 2014, BKD implemented the SKY Sponsor-Protégé Program to support SKY’s initial focus of attracting, retaining and developing women leaders. Through SKY, we aim to challenge biases and foster an inclusive culture in which all employees have a fair chance to develop and refine their talents and advance in their careers. 

Sponsorship programs have proven successful in helping prepare women for management positions, thereby increasing representation of women in first-level management.

“If women are promoted and hired to first-level manager at the same rates as men, we will add one million more women to management in corporate America over the next five years.”1


The Sponsor-Protégé Program helps protégés do more than identify their goals. The program encourages the focus and clarity needed to identify goals and articulate the specific path toward goal achievement. Protégés benefit from opportunities to increase technical expertise, understand how to break down business development into actionable steps and learn from other niches and locations to incorporate a more comprehensive approach.  

“The Sponsor-Protégé Program helped me take an honest look at myself and my career and put focused effort on reaching personal and professional achievements. My sponsor was a great coach and offered advice and guidance as we launched LeaseVision, a brand-new firm tool.” – Jessica Richter 

“I gained insight into how a firm operates and learned more about firm financials and how to develop a strong personal brand. I was also promoted to managing director.” – Christie Clements 

“It was really beneficial that my sponsor was a regional industry leader in my industry, but in another region of BKD. I was able to bounce ideas off of him, gain advice and see how the firm operates in other regions.” – Brandy Buckler 

“The program helped strengthen my approach to growing and selling in my industry. My career track is more top of mind and something I work on each week.” – Jennifer Williams 

1“Women in the Workplace 2019.” McKinsey & Company, n.d. https://www.mckinsey.com/featured-insights/gender-equality/women-in-the-workplace-2019

Our path to equality starts with SKY. The collaboration of all employees—regardless of background and identity—helps us foster a culture that supports maximizing the potential of all.

How does the SKY Sponsor-Protégé Program work?

  • Sponsors are BKD partners who use their experiences and influence to help protégés increase visibility, network with other leaders and accomplish vital developmental goals. They provide career navigation guidance and effective feedback and strive to develop a trusted advisor relationship and actively advocate for protégés. 
  • Protégés are highly talented women professionals who work to build a relationship of trust with their sponsors by engaging in honest conversations about current and future goals, as well as personal and professional barriers. They strive to understand the firm’s business strategy and needs while developing a career plan to match their abilities. 
  • Sponsors and protégés attend a two-day orientation in December to prepare for the program, followed by one-on-one meetings every six weeks. In addition, the SKY Advisory Council chair and other leaders perform regular check-ins to evaluate progress and ensure program objectives are being met. The sponsor-protégé relationship typically concludes after 24 months.

What makes this program unique?

BKD’s sponsorship program focuses on targeted development—an efficient model of retention and advancement customized for each individual. Managing partners nominate experienced women professionals for the program. The CEO, Management Committee and SKY Advisory Council chair select protégés annually and match each with a sponsor who can provide expertise and guidance. This creates staggered two-year “classes.” 

Managing partners nominate experienced professionals from their practice to participate in the program as protégés. The CEO and SKY Advisory Council chair review the nominations and select the class to be presented to and approved by the Management Committee. They also choose a mix of male and female partners to serve as sponsors. All protégés and sponsors attend an orientation workshop that trains them on ways to develop a successful and productive relationship.

Join us in the fight for equality!

Visit our SKY resource page to learn more about our diversity initiative. There, you’ll find our 2017 SKY Impact Report and our 2018 SKYx Women’s Conference video and editorial recap.

Looking for additional facts and statistics on diversity and inclusion? Check out the vast resources from McKinsey & Company’s Diversity and Inclusion webpage to learn more about the challenges facing equality and your role in advancing an inclusive culture. Here are a few pieces we recommend: 

Find a career with BKD and join us in building an inclusive culture and bright future for all BKD Trusted Advisors™

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