The SKY Sponsor-Protégé Program debuted in December 2014 with a class of 12 sponsors and 12 protégés. BKDLife interviewed four of the teams to get their insights into the program.
We have a saying at BKD: Make tomorrow better than today. Being an engaged mentor and sponsor is one way we accomplish that. And that's why I'm thrilled to be a part of this great program.
- Eric Hansen, Chief Operating Officer
Sponsors and protégés agree: Being chosen for this elite program is an honor. For the protégés, it means their managing partners believed in their leadership skills and trusted them to put forth the necessary effort to succeed in the program. The sponsors see it as an opportunity to use their knowledge and experience to help women leaders at BKD grow and achieve their career goals.
Being part of the pilot program makes this even more of a privilege—with added responsibilities, of course. This class is expected to provide feedback and insight to help make it a legacy program that will attract interested BKDers and benefit them for many years to come.
“We’re pioneering a new approach to how we can sponsor and develop our future women leaders within the firm,” National Industry Partner Jerry Henderson explains.
To make their time in the program as beneficial as possible, participants adopted an open communication policy. Formal calls take place every six weeks, and sponsors keep their lines open to protégés in the interim.
Protégés also recognize they need be receptive to different perspectives, possibly to the point of changing habits and practices they’ve had for years. Sponsors reciprocate by being active listeners. They strive to learn what’s on their protégés’ minds, understand their career goals and challenges they may be encountering and help shape their aspirations. Sponsors provide candid feedback, access to their network and opinions to help their protégés advance their careers.
“I’m used to being the worker bee, but my sponsor helped me understand how partners think and how to make my career successful here,” says Director Nikki Kubly.
Location Not Important
Most of the sponsors and protégés are in separate offices. This hasn’t been an issue, though. In fact, the participants said being in different locations is beneficial because it provides them a fresh perspective from what they’re used to.
“Probably the only thing we have to watch out for is making sure advice or comments I’m giving Nikki don’t contradict advice or comments from her managing partner,” says Barry Davis, North Regional Managing Partner and Nikki’s sponsor.
On the other hand, being in the same office provides Jerry Henderson and Director Jennifer Williams the opportunity for more interaction. Most of the participants first met at the program’s kick-off in December 2014 and don’t work side-by-side, but Jennifer and Jerry do work together on a few clients.
“I think it’s helped me hone in on my goals quicker, because he has more knowledge about my personality, who I’ve worked with and different things that have affected my career over the last few years,” Jennifer says.
Measure of Success
While many of the two-year program’s benefits will be realized over time, the participants are already seeing results. For one, they’re more aware of diversity issues in accounting, and those issues are top of mind. Protégés also changed the way they go about their daily tasks and duties, thanks to feedback and direction from their sponsors.
“I had never taken the time to really give my goals proper thought and planning,” says Director Anne Adams. “This process has allowed me to write down my goals and figure out the steps I need to take to achieve them. To me, that’s a huge benefit—knowing where you’re going is half the battle!”
Anne’s sponsor, Partner Paige Gerich, says those types of benefits are a good gauge of the program’s success “I hope the program is defined by how many protégés are able to define their career path and get where they want to be,” she explains.
Words of Wisdom
Protégés encourage fellow women client service professionals at BKD who are seeking long-term career guidance to talk to their coach or managing partner about being nominated for the program’s next class, which will include a self-nomination option.
“If they’re interested, they need to speak up and use their current network to get their name thrown in the hat, because it’s an amazing opportunity for our future leadership,” Director Tammy Rivera says.
“But,” she adds, “you have to be ready to work.”
The firm is also recruiting sponsors who are enthusiastic about helping talented, goal-oriented women advance their careers at BKD.
“This is an opportunity to work with a young, up-and-coming leader in the firm and help that person achieve their end career goal,” says John Wanamaker, managing partner of BKD’s Southern Missouri practice and Tammy’s sponsor. “That’s an extremely rewarding aspect of a program that’s taking sponsorship at BKD to an entirely new level.”