Over the years there have been numerous discussions on the need for women professionals to find mentors who will guide and help them as they climb up the ladder of leadership. There is no question that the right mentorship can help emerging leaders effectively map out their career trajectory, but is it enough to propel women forward to senior roles and contribute to closing the leadership gender gap?
If we’re going by statistics, which shows only 29% of Senior Management roles are occupied by women, it might not be enough.
There is now a large push for companies to go beyond mentorship and towards sponsorship for their women employees.
But what exactly is sponsorship and should we be focusing on finding a sponsor, not a mentor?
Mentor vs Sponsor: What are the Differences?
First, let’s look at what a mentor is. A mentor, in essence, is there to guide you and nurture you as you take steps and make decisions in your career with the ultimate goal of promotion towards senior-level positions. They can also serve as a guide and adviser in your new leadership roles to ensure success.
While ideally mentors come from the same company, in many cases this option is not available or feasible. Mentors aren’t necessarily people in higher roles in your organisation, they can be any experienced person in the industry you’re in, that you respect.
Sponsors, on the other hand, need to be senior managers within the company. The role of a sponsor is to advocate for you and help facilitate career trajectory within the boardroom and amongst fellow senior managers. They may also push you forward for projects that will help increase your profile and portfolio and enable you to become more visible.
While mentors ready you for management positions, sponsors are there to open doors and provide exposure and experiences that will allow you to secure the role.
While you can easily approach someone to be your mentor, asking for someone to sponsor you is a little more complicated. Sponsors pick the people they want to advocate for, that’s why it’s so important for companies to take a proactive role in ensuring their senior-level executives do not ignore their talent pool for women.
Which is More Important?
When I lived in Nigeria, I ran a successful restaurant and catering business, with two branches and over 50 employees. It was not an easy road to success. While I had always had a passion for cuisine, serving my family and friends at home and at gatherings is not the same as running a fully operational restaurant as well as providing catering offices in our area.
I would not have made it past that first year without the guidance and support of colleagues in the food industry. But even that was not enough to expand my business to where I wanted it to be.
I needed funding.
While my mentors gave me advice on how to raise money, which banks to approach, how to write my proposals, it wasn’t until I met with a woman who was the head of the bank branch that I was able to secure a loan. This bold leader was the one who advocated for my vision and goals within the organisation in order to help me get the funding I needed.
Mentors and sponsors both play an important role in building your career. It is not a matter of one or the other. These two come hand in hand in ensuring your success in the workplace. Think of it as passing a bill into law, your mentors are there to help you write the bill, and the sponsors are the lobbyists to ensure your voice is seen and heard by lawmakers in order for it to be fully realised.
If you haven´t already, find yourself a mentor. Also, look closely around your organisation at who is being sponsored, can you put yourself into a position to be sponsored? Are you in a position to mentor or sponsor someone?
If your organisation doesn’t have a mentoring or sponsorship program established, get in touch with us at Rise & Lead Women. We offer corporate programs to establish these within organisations as well as supporting your organisation to build awareness around mentoring and sponsorship.
Grow and retain your talented leaders, contact firstname.lastname@example.org for more details.
Together we Rise & Lead!
Ebere Akadiri is an accomplished entrepreneur and an advocate for women in leadership. Her passion to inspire others to achieve their goals drove her to found Rise and Lead Women along with her co-founder, Poonam Barua. Their mission is to inspire women to take the lead in closing the gender gap in workplaces and in business.