Wendywoman on sponsoring vs. mentoring…

Reporter Query:

What are the specific issues that women face in seeking sponsorship? Are there issues that they must overcome that men don’t have to deal with as much?

You can put gender and diversity aside when it comes to finding a sponsor.  If you are looking for someone who will whole-heartedly support your career by facilitating the correct training and developmental opportunities, which may or may not include a promotion, that is earned and not randomly given.  Over the years, I have both mentored and sponsored an equal number of men and woman.  I was constantly on the lookout for high potential where no one else saw it.

What are the advantages of having a sponsor vs. having a mentor?

Mentors are responsible for the teaching and development phase of someone’s career so that sponsors gets visibility into the gifts, talents, capability and performance, allowing for the promotion phase.

Is it really better to have a sponsor than a mentor, or are they just different?

The roles are different, albeit in my case, I was often both to the employee.  You will generally find that sponsors have high- ranking titles in an organization and often do not have the time that hands-on mentoring requires.  Bottom line: first find a good mentor to help hone your skill set so that your outstanding performance and potential will be recognized by a sponsor.

How does a woman go about finding a sponsor? Is it something she must seek out, or do prospective sponsors contact women for opportunities?

The first thing I tell potential candidates that want me to mentor/sponsor them is that I expect them to always do their personal best; always go the extra mile.  If they expect someone else to invest in them, i.e., my time, they should be more than willing to invest in themselves.   They should exploit every opportunity to get in front of potential sponsors and “wow” them – not with crappy power point presentations but take a risk and try something none of your colleagues will.  Executives in today’s environment are being forced to think differently.  Prove you have the stomach to be out on a ledge when others don’t.   Then sponsors will be looking for you.

Is having a sponsor rather than a mentor an option for everyone? 
What about for women working at smaller companies? Can mentors/sponsors only be found at larger corporations?

No.  There is no constitution that gives you the right to a mentor or sponsor.  This is an earned opportunity.  While larger organizations may tend to have more and/or different opportunities for mentorship, not all big companies have the right developmental climate.  I have worked in companies big and small and have played the mentor/sponsor role in both.  Don’t assume that the opportunity doesn’t exist.  I routinely mentor people who have the “courage” to ask me no matter what size organization I am working in.  You often don’t know until you ask.

Some larger corporations have official mentorship programs. But in very small companies (20 people or less), that’s unlikely. Are there options for women in smaller companies to find a mentor or sponsor outside their company, either through a formal program or more informally?

First, don’t rule out the possibility that a great mentor exists within a 20-person business; just ask those involved in the start up of Dell or Google.  While a small business may seem to limit your career advancement, it is often easier to move into different functional areas broadening your capabilities.  If none exists, investigate the local Chamber of Commerce and become involved in community projects that are often sponsored by senior leaders from some of the larger and/or more successful local businesses.  Again, it is important you invest your personal time and effort in order to be recognized.

Would having a sponsor work for someone transitioning to a new career?

Certainly.  Requirements for earning a sponsorship don’t really change.  They want to position the “best” talent for promotion, whether you are new to the industry or not.

What age group would be the target audience for a sponsor? Is it a different age group than for a mentor?

There is none.  Sponsors are looking for experience, ability to learn and adapt, someone with whom they connection, someone who has confidence and won’t see the sponsor as competition for what they are trying to accomplish.  I’ve sponsored a 50-year old man and a 28-year old woman.  Age and gender don’t matter.  Tenacity and courage do.

What are the main challenges of sponsorship for women who participate it? How can they best overcome those challenges?

All you need is one person who came before you who viewed mentorship and sponsorship as an entitlement to spoil the party for those who come after.  It is a privilege to be granted access to a mentor/sponsor program.  Don’t squander the time and attention you receive from anyone from whom you would learn and grow –whether it is a formal program or not.   If you always do your personal best; always go the extra mile, you’ll find that the crowd is minimal and you are more likely to get noticed.