5 Lessons on Mentoring & Sponsorship

by Vault Law Editors | April 14, 2011

  • My Vault

So you’ve received all kinds of career advice and support from your mentor, but you’re still not reaching the top? According to Catalyst—a nonprofit organization focusing on women in the workplace—the missing link to your career success may be sponsorship. At this week’s Women’s Leadership Conference hosted by the Conference Board in New York City, Jan Combopiano and Michael Chamberlain of Catalyst addressed the issue in a presentation titled Sponsorship: Is it a Prerequisite to Drive Career Advancement? The short answer to that question is yes, and men are reaping the career benefits of sponsorship, while women are often left sponsor-less.

So what should companies and leaders do to ensure that sponsorship crosses gender lines? Check out these five lessons from Ms. Combopiano and Mr. Chamberlain’s session.

1.Sponsorship & Mentoring Are Not the Same

Although often thought of as interchangeable, mentoring and sponsorship are in fact quite different and serve two distinct roles in career development. Mentors offer “career advice” and “advise and support you,” while sponsors are “generally in senior-level positions” and “provide individuals with an opportunity to advance,” says Mr. Chamberlain. In other words, a mentor serves as a career guide, while a sponsor will step up to the plate for you and help you move ahead.

2.Mentoring is Effective

“Mentoring works,” says Ms. Combopiano. Among its benefits include: 1. “decreased stress,” 2. “increased job satisfaction,” 3. “improved performance,” and 4. “increased exposure” (from Catalyst’s Power Point). In fact, women with mentors have a higher salary.

3.But . . . Mentoring Alone Isn’t Enough

Mentoring is most effective, however, when it is coupled with sponsorship. According to Mr. Chamberlain, “sponsors give you the opportunities to use those skills” provided through mentoring. Career guidance is critical, but what good is it if you can’t put the advice into action? The goal is to get recognized by the top; it doesn’t matter if your sponsor is male or female—what is important is having some one in the senior ranks promote you and your work.

4.Men Are an Important Part of the Conversation

Speaking of men, they are critical to growing sponsorship of women. “Men are very important to women’s advancement,” says Ms. Combopiano. "It’s about leadership, and it’s about men being part of the solution,” she says. Most high-level positions are held by men; therefore, they form the majority of the sponsor pool. “If we’re gonna make change, we really need to engage those men at the top," says Ms. Combopiano.

5.Women Should Mentor Men

Growing sponsorship of women isn’t merely about finding sponsors for women, though. It’s about building an understanding of the career barriers faced by women. One way to spread knowledge is through mentorship. “Men with female mentors actually became more aware of the inequalities women face,” says Ms. Cambopiano.

The Conference Board
The Conference Board’s Women Leadership Conference
Catalyst

Read More:
Get a Sponsor Now if You Know What's Good for Your Career--Women, Especially
The Sponsor Effect: Why Qualified Women Don't Make it to The Corner Office
Law Firm Diversity: Views from Female Insiders

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