Mentors vs. Sponsors: How Each Can Help 

Women in Tech Career Advice350x219The two may seem similar but each plays a distinct role in career success and advancement.

By Tamika Cody and Eve Tahmincioglu

There’s an enduring conversation about the distinction between mentors and sponsors in the workplace. Anyone who benefits from either side will tell you that each is clearly distinct.

The actions and characteristics of a mentor and sponsor may look similar, and could be the reason why many find it hard to tell the difference. For example, both mentors and sponsors might make introductions to key leaders or provide access to networking opportunities; both might provide guidance and feedback.

To help you figure it out, DiversityInc spoke with a few mentors and sponsors from its 2015 Top 50 Companies for Diversity and one of its Top 25 Noteworthy companies, to get a well-defined understanding of the role of each.

Here are seven points each defining the roles of mentors and sponsors:


  • 1.  “A mentor coaches on things like career and personal advancement,” said Karyn Twaronite, EY’s Global Diversity & Inclusiveness Officer (No. 4)
  • 2.  Mentors take the time to listen to their mentees. They share what they know by providing advice, support and feedback. Diane Evans, head of talent planning at Wells Fargo (No. 11), describes mentoring as “talking with you.”
  • 3. “Mentoring relationships are typically time based and the primary purpose is development,” said Evans.
  • 4. “Mentors act as a sounding board or a shoulder to cry on, offering advice as needed and support and guidance as requested,” said DiversityInc’s Top 25 Noteworthy CompanyEMC’s chief diversity officer, Jackie Glenn, recently gave her definition of the two terms during the Best Practices to Mentoring & Sponsorship Webinar.
  • 5. Evans suggested that mentoring relationships can be manufactured or structured in a formal way as a means to support development.
  • 6. A mentor makes introductions that might help a mentee achieve a specific developmental goal, she noted.
  • 7. And mentoring focuses on the development needed to achieve career goals.


  • 1. “A sponsor is a long-term, hands-on commitment to encouraging, advocating for, and creating advancement opportunities for individuals,” said Twaronite.
  • 2. Sponsors, Evans explained, act as an advocate for an individual’s advancement and promotion within the organization. Sponsorship is “talking about you.”
  • 3. “Sponsors know their protégé well,” Evans explained, “understand their career aspirations, are confident in their potential and capabilities, and believe in them.”
  • 4. “Sponsors are advocates in positions of authority who use their influence intentionally to help others advance,” Glenn said.
  • 5. Sponsorship,”cannot be manufactured,” Evans said, adding that sponsors are not assigned partnerships. “It is the result of a relationship that is cultivated over time,” she said.
  • 6. “Sponsorship actions are often spontaneous and opportunistic,” she said. “A sponsor takes advantage of ‘water cooler conversations,’ business meetings, etc., to advocate for their protégé. Often sponsorship is unconscious. It’s so second nature that as opportunities occur, the sponsor instinctively advocates on behalf of the protégé.”
  • 7. A sponsor makes an introduction to help advance a person’s career and uses that introduction to advocate on their behalf, said Evans.


In addition to characteristics, there are also distinct duties for both mentors and sponsors. Twaronite explained that even though mentorship is important, she said sponsorship is transformational and essential for career advancement.

“We believe a mentor stands beside you, while a sponsor stands in front of you,” she said.


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