Why Women Seeking Career Acceleration Need Sponsors in Addition to Mentors

In my years of actively engaging in extensive professional networking, conversations and conferences, I’ve never heard the same question asked more times in different ways as the difference between a mentor and a sponsor. Sponsor vs mentor, while often used interchangeably, neither serve the same purpose nor mean the same thing.


Difference between a Sponsor and a Mentor

A mentor provides career guidance, support, advice and serves as a sounding board. A sponsor on the other hand is a powerful and connected person in the organization who has a seat at the decision-making table and uses their connections to actively advocate for their protégé in order to advance their career. As Slyvia Hewlett nicely articulated in her book (Forget a Mentor, Find a Sponsor), “Mentors advise, sponsors act.” She noted that women on average have three times as many mentors as men, but men have twice as many sponsors.

Both sponsors and mentors play key roles in forging one’s career to the next level.  For one, my mentors have been monumental and in my career trajectory through one on one coaching, advise and support to enhance my personal and career development over the years. Yet in today’s corporate temperature, leaning in and embracing one’s career opportunity, self-confidence and self-motivation by itself is not enough for a career advance. Sheryl Sandberg brought this to light in her book Lean In where she states that no matter how fiercely a woman leans in, she still needs someone to lean in with her in order for her to get ahead.


The Correlation between having a Sponsor and Career Acceleration

Notwithstanding the fact that women now outnumber men in the U.S. workforce, the top jobs are still male by a wide margin. Although Women make up 34 percent of the layer right below CEO, only 4.2 percent of Fortune 500 CEOs are women. Suni Harford, Head of Investment at UBS Assets Management put things in perspective in her keynote forum when she said “Every major decision about one’s career will take place when you’re not in the room”. Thus, sponsorship is highly correlated to career growth and acceleration.


How to Get a Sponsor 

The ins and outs of getting a sponsor is yet another topic of conversation that hasn’t been given the full time and attention it deserves. Sponsorship relationships are often times earned and developed through establishing a strong brand, work ethics and overall excellence consistently in and outside the workplace.  The person being sponsored has the responsibility to continue performing well consistently and exude the spirit of excellence and gratitude.


Five Key Takeaways on the Sponsor-Mentee Relationship

  • Focus on your personal branding
  • A successful sponsor relationship requires connection and authenticity
  • Be strategic about developing your professional network
  • Sponsor relationship is a two way-street and requires intentional nurturing
  • Sponsors are not gender specific


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