Women Need Lots of Sponsors, Mentors

By Eve Tahmincioglu

You can never have too many mentors or sponsors when it comes to advancing your career.

“You can’t just get hooked up with the mentor your company provides and expect to get ahead,” according to Dr. Ella Bell, in her recent book, “Career GPS, Strategies for Women Navigating the New Corporate Landscape.”

Photo by Shutterstock
Photo by Shutterstock

There are “allies, mentors, sponsors and professional connections” in the workplace, and they all are valuable, but what’s most important is to have many, writes Bell in her book, which is excerpted in an issue of DiversityInc magazine.

“Networking is much more than collected business cards,” she continued. “These days you need a sponsor—someone high up in the company who can take you under his or her wing, and offer visibility, protection and a boost upward. The truth is, each of these relationships is important.”

It’s particularly important for women.

A common mistake women make is having just one sponsor while men have many, said Dr. Rohini Anand, Sodexo’s senior vice president and global chief diversity officer. “For a man, if his sponsor’s career gets derailed, it’s not fatal because he has other Rohini Anand, Sodexosponsors. For a woman, that can be very different,” she said.

Sponsors are typically senior-level executives who touts the person’s achievements and helps them advance. Most of these relationships are not formalized. For example, Anand noted, “I have a senior executive sponsor at Sodexo, but it’s not called out formally. A sponsor is an advocate, and this executive has definitely done that for me.”

What’s important, she continued, is that senior executives sponsor people from traditionally underrepresented groups, not just white men.

Mentors often will become a de facto sponsor.

Barbara Adachi, national managing principal for Deloitte LLP’s Initiative for the Retention and Advancement of Women, told us about an internal survey on sponsorship of senior people—partners, principals, directors and senior managers. More than 3,000 people were surveyed and 865 responded.

While close to 80 percent of the women surveyed felt they had a mentor, only about 60 percent felt they had a sponsor. “More men say they have sponsors—they have progressed more naturally. Women don’t always ask—they wait to be noticed and recognized for their work while men just naturally form these relationships,” she said.

Deloitte, like Sodexo, does not have a formal sponsorship program but embeds sponsorship into its talent-development initiatives.

“Sponsors have a vested interest in your career. They can use their actual political capital to help you get ahead. A mentor can be from the outside; a sponsor must come from the inside,” Adachi explained.

Where ever you find them, make sure you find more than one.

With any relationship, mentorship and sponsorship takes time to form a certain level of trust. In an article about how to find a mentor, Margot James Copeland, executive vice president and director of philanthropy at KeyCorp, (No. 49,) described the connection as courting. “It’s like asking for someone out on a date and then asking them to marry you,” she said. “It’s a commitment and people don’t want to make commitments to someone they don’t know.”

The biggest thing to remember is this – DO YOUR HOMEWORK.  Get to know the people, the organization, and what is valued before you set out to find a mentor or a sponsor.

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