experience of my clients and recent research show otherwise. Research conducted by Catalyst on 4,000 full-time employed women and men identified as “high potentials” found that women with the same education as their male counterparts, hired at the same time in the same roles, reported significantly less income, job satisfaction, and advancement within a few years of beginning their careers. The Catalyst investigation revealed that the men often received sponsorship, while women received mentorship. Sponsorship differs from mentorship because it goes beyond giving feedback and advice to using the sponsor’s influence with senior executives to advocate for opportunities for the employee. Catalyst’s research concluded that women are overmentored and undersponsored relative to male peers. A special report in 2012 by McKinsey & Company agrees that one of the important barriers to women’s advancement is structural because it is harder for women to get into the right networks of powerful executives. Sylvia Ann Hewlett, in her book, Forget a Mentor: Find a Sponsor, explains the difference between mentors and sponsors this way: mentors give; sponsors invest. She explains that both mentors and sponsors give advice and make introductions, but the difference is that sponsors go out on a limb for you and then make it their business to see you succeed because you carry their brand. In return, protégés work hard, provide a diverse perspective, and help the sponsor realize their vision and goals.
What You Can Do to Find a SponsorSylvia Ann Hewlett suggests the following:
- Look around and identify leaders with influence, power, and a voice at decision-making tables. Your mentor may also help you identify potential sponsors.
- Choose a sponsor carefully. The people you consider don’t have to be your role models. You don’t have to like or emulate their leadership styles. They shouldn’t be your friends. Sponsors should be two levels above you in a large organization or have the ear of the founder or president in a smaller organization.
- Get in front of would-be sponsors (but don’t ask them to be your sponsor):
- Ask your manager for stretch assignments that will get you seen by your would-be sponsor.
- Request a meeting with your target sponsor for career advice.
- Approach your would-be sponsor with an idea for how you can help with a project of interest to him or her. Be concrete about the contribution you want to make, and explain what you are looking for in return (some possibilities include introductions, stretch opportunities or lateral moves).
- Cultivate more than one sponsor—one inside your organization and one outside.