June 16, 2011
Posted by Joan V. Gallos
Joann Lublin in the Wall Street Journal got it right. Her message: for career advancement, mentors are nice, but sponsors are essential. What’s the difference?
Sponsors are powerful senior players who open doors by staking their reputations on you. Mentors, in contrast, support by offering informal advice and coaching. The distinction is huge.
Reflecting on my career, my biggest advancements came when someone senior said: she can do it, give her the opportunity to prove me right. [A shout out of appreciation to Marvin Querry, Eleanor Brantley Schwartz, Gordon Lamb, and Marjorie Smelstor.]
Bottom-line: recognize the difference between a sponsor and a mentor, and be proactive in finding a sponsor to support your career advancement. Research has shown that’s not intuitive – or easy – for everyone.
A study by the Center for Work-Life Policy, for example, found that men are 46% more likely to have sponsors than women. Human nature and the realities of the workplace would predict that: men still dominate senior management and sponsors are more apt to support people with skills and characteristics just like them, making the scarcity of women and minorities in high places a huge issue for those demographics.
To fix this, nine big businesses have created sponsorship initiatives that match promising leaders with sponsors or teach them how to find and earn one for themselves. Early results are promising.
At American Express, for example, half of 20 women in their pilot sponsorship program last year landed promotions or lateral moves. Of 45 emerging female technical leaders in an IBM sponsorship program begun last summer, five have already accepted new posts. Three women from Pricewaterhouse Coopers LLP’s program have taken full charge of a region for the first time.
If your company doesn’t have a program, there are still things you can do to find a sponsor. Offer yourself for “stretch” work assignments and projects that provide visibility to those at the top. Volunteer for committees where you can broaden your contacts and show your skills. Network – and see establishing relationships across the organization as an important part of your job. When you find potential sponsors, seek and heed their feedback.
It also goes without saying, delivering for a sponsor is a must.