“When you’ve worked hard, and done well, and walked through that doorway of opportunity, you do not slam it shut behind you,” Mrs. Obama wrote in Becoming. “You reach back and you give other folks the same chances that helped you succeed.”1
Mrs. Obama has had many memorable quotes, but this is a favorite. In a few brief words, she creates a compelling visual representation of sponsorship, which is defined as “active support by someone appropriately placed in the organization who has significant influence….and who is advocating for, protecting, and fighting for the career advancement of an individual.2 Sponsorship and mentorship are distinct concepts, with the former focusing on a strategic and transactional relationship and the latter cultivating a personal and longitudinal bond.2,3 Recent literature suggests that sponsorship is essential for the career advancement of women.3
The Society of General Internal Medicine’s Career Advising Program (CAP) was developed to advance the careers of physician women through sponsorship. In 2013, members of the Women and Medicine Commission (formerly Women in Medicine) launched CAP by pairing faculty sponsors (associate professor or higher rank) with protégés (fellow or assistant professor rank) based on shared academic interests and career paths. Over a two-year period, sponsors help their protégés expand professional networks, improve curriculum vitae, and join high-impact committees.4 One hundred sixty-eight protégés have participated in CAP to date and report increased confidence in professional self-advocacy and curriculum vitae development.4
The overwhelming success of CAP prompted us to consider how the program’s benefits could be extended to other groups who experience disparities in academic advancement and promotion. Studies have shown that underrepresented in medicine (URiM) faculty are vulnerable to inequities in advancement, and disparities in the receipt of sponsorship may be one contributing factor.5
In October 2020, we reached out to colleagues in the Minorities in Medicine (MIM) interest group and the Health Equity Commission (HEC) regarding our interest in collaborating on sponsorship efforts for SGIM’s URiM members. We were met with excitement and developed the CAP-MIM-HEC workgroup which has met monthly to develop initiatives that promote greater equity and inclusion, as listed below:
- Collaboration on co-hosted webinars. Our first co-hosted webinar, “Executive Presence in the Virtual Environment,” was held March 2021 for members of all CAP, MIM, and HEC. This presentation helped audience members to identify strategies for effective virtual communication and presentation.
- Intentional recruitment of URiM members. Approximately 7% of past and current CAP participants self-identify as URiM. We are developing strategies to increase this percentage by advertising CAP to the larger SGIM community and encouraging applications from URiM members who might benefit.
- Data collection and analysis. We will reevaluate how we collect data on applicants for review of equity in acceptance to the CAP cohort going forward.
- Pilot a scalable model of career advising. We will pilot an alternative CAP model to pair one sponsor to two protégés. This would expand CAP’s capacity for matches and provide protégés with the opportunity to serve as near-peer sponsors.
As we strive to “Transform Values into Actions,” the future steps of our CAP-MIM-HEC collaboration include joint programming with webinars that emphasize an intersectional approach and expanding the 2022 cohort of CAP to include URiM men SGIM members.
CAP has proved to be a tremendous resource for advancing the career of women SGIM members through sponsorship. We hope that our collaboration with members of HEC and MIM will allow more SGIM members to experience these rich and fruitful relationships. As we embark on this endeavor, our success is closely tied to the generosity of the SGIM community and our volunteer advisors—we hope you will consider joining our cohort of advisors.