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Ricardo Anzaldua: Sponsorship 2.0

As the managing partners and general counsel of top law firms and corporate legal departments, LCLD Members are some of the most powerful legal leaders in the United States. But some of our Members go above and beyond in applying their leadership to advance diversity and inclusion at their organizations and in the broader legal profession. These individuals exemplify LCLD's mission to make the legal profession as diverse as the nation it serves. 

LCLD asked Ricardo Anzaldua, Senior Vice President, General Counsel, and Corporate Secretary of Freddie Mac, to share one of the most innovative, impactful ways his organization is advancing inclusion.  

1. Provide a brief summary of your initiative. 

The sponsorship initiative consists of identifying those high-potential individual contributors who are candidates for leadership positions and assigning each such identified individual a senior (officer-level) sponsor. The sponsor and protégé are paired through a careful process designed to ensure success in the relationship, which entails efforts by the sponsor to:

    1. afford the protégé experiences, exposure, and training designed to advance the protégé’s development and advancement; 
    2. achieve a development or career aspiration that is substantive and significant; 
    3. design a plan for achieving that aspiration that includes concrete, measurable achievements and milestones to facilitate evaluation;
    4. ensure that the protégé enjoys the benefit of a mentoring relationship that is supportive and nurturing; and
    5. continue the relationship for at least 3-5 years. 

In order to ensure diversity in the leadership pipeline, the manner of selecting protégés must be conducted on a bias-blind basis and must involve a diverse candidate pool. In my own experience, the pool of individual contributors has been very diverse and therefore requires only a bias-blind selection process. Since the initiative entails the commitment of a very scarce resource (time commitment on the part of officers), we select only about 10 percent of the individual contributor population for participation in the leadership initiative. 

2. What inspired you to take action on this element of D&I?

It has become clear to me over the course of my career that diverse employees are selected to participate in opportunities for advancement at a lower rate than non-diverse employees. The reasons for this, I believe, are complex, lying partly in unconscious bias, but also in the psychology of diverse individuals in corporate organizations. The underlying reasons for an organization’s failure to sponsor the advancement of diverse personnel at rates similar to those that apply to non-diverse personnel are worthy of close analysis; however, the initiation of a bias-blind initiative to create sponsorship of a diverse leadership pipeline need not await that analysis. It is enough to recognize that organizations are very successful at sponsoring the advancement and promotion of white males, and relatively unsuccessful at sponsoring the advancement and promotion of other categories of professionals. 

3. What makes your efforts innovative and different?

This initiative is distinctive in a number of respects: 

First, selection of protégé participants takes place through a process that strives to be as bias-blind as possible; participants are selected through a questionnaire-based evaluation process focused on identifying leadership attributes (communication ability, ability to project and inspire confidence, command of subject matter, poise under stress, executive presence, etc.). The questionnaires are directed to a 360-degree universe of evaluators, not limited to the candidates’ managers. And the results are considered by the senior leadership team in consultation with the candidates’ managers.

Second, the process is not static once initiated. It contemplates ongoing evaluation of the successful achievement of milestones and ongoing commitment by the protégé to advancing of his/her own career. Messaging around this aspect of the program, which is key to the organization’s understanding of it, consists of reminding all members of the organization that the protégé cohort is not permanent. Individuals who are included may exit the program if they do not evidence commitment or performance to the necessary level, and individuals initially not selected can be brought into the program in subsequent intake rounds. In addition, messaging emphasizes that each individual is primarily accountable for his/her own professional development and success.

Third, the initiative contemplates accountability not only for the protégés but also for sponsors, whose performance is evaluated in part on the successful completion of development plan milestones. Because success or the lack of it can be attributed to both the protégé and the sponsor, this element of the initiative requires careful attention at evaluation time. 

4. Are there lessons you learned? Are there things you would do differently?

The nature of the initiative is that of a continuous improvement activity, and the leadership of the organization (the 40 or so senior-most officers) continually refine processes, selection and evaluation methods, and strategies around messaging and communications regarding the initiative. This flow of information has actually become a benefit to the initiative as we have allowed the process to be interactive and developmental, including for incumbent leadership.

5. Has there been a ripple effect for your majority attorneys?

Because messaging around the initiative focused on the need to create a diverse leadership pipeline, we at first had a strong negative reaction by a relatively small number of white male professionals. We addressed this by illustrating the demographics of how sponsorship of new leaders had been taking place in the organization historically (the preceding 20 years, for which data were readily available). When we showed statistically that sponsorship of white men into leadership positions far outstripped the sponsorship of professionals in every other demographic category, the resistance disappeared. 

It bears noting, however, that the initiative has not excluded white males as protégés. Rather, the effect has been to include white males at rates that reflect their representation in the overall population of professionals (slightly below 30 percent).

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Carlos Brown: Inclusive Teams