Main image of article Key to Closing Gender Pay Gap is White Male ‘Sponsors’: Study

A new study from PayScale shows that closing the gender pay gap is most successful when white male colleagues advocate for (or “sponsor”) women, especially when they’re women of color.

“Our new report shines a light on the fact that white, male leaders should actively look for opportunities to advocate for people who don’t look like them,” says PayScale Director Wendy Brown. “Human bias is entrenched in the workplace and sponsorship programs that don’t address it will result in the continued prevalence of primarily white, male leadership on our nation’s boards and executive teams.

"Sponsorship programs can be an important component of landing higher-paying management jobs," Brown added, "so it’s critical for companies to have a formalized plan to ensure women of color have equal access to sponsors who will advocate for them when decisions are being made about career advancement and pay raises.”

PayScale's data shows those with a ‘sponsor’ earn 11.6 percent more on average, though it’s not an even playing field. Men who have an advocate earn 12.3 percent more, while women earn 10.2 percent more.

Women who are ‘sponsored’ by women earn 14.6 percent less than women who have males advocating for them. Similarly, men with female sponsors make 8.7 percent less than those with other male sponsors.

The findings only worsen along racial lines. Black women who have black sponsors (male or female) make 11.3 percent less than those with white advocates, and Hispanic women in the same boat (Hispanic women with Hispanic sponsors compared to Hispanic women with white sponsors) earn 15.5 percent less. Overall, 60 percent report having someone on their side at work advocating for them.

But sponsorship isn’t mentorship, says PayScale. While mentors offer advice, sponsors “actively seek to provide opportunities.” It says sponsors are typically “decision-makers” within an organization, and most often in the reporting chain for those they sponsor.

Plainly put, PayScale suggests closing the gender pay gap happens faster when white male managers make a point to advocate for women – especially women of color – who report to them.

While likely true, it’s important to note that tech is a bit friendlier than many other professions. A separate study shows those in tech are less concerned with the gender pay gap than those in other professions. A PayScale study from last year shows the gender pay gap in tech is narrowing, and a study from Google hints that diversity is also improving. Diligence drives it all, and remaining vigilant and aware of the issues is critical.