When looking at the professional success of women versus men there is a disparity favoring the men. Generally speaking men have gone much further in their careers than women. This disparity seems to be greater among Black women. The book Lean In: Women, Work, and the Will to Lead by Sheryl Sandberg highlights this issue and what women can do to combat this. While it’s a great guide especially during this time in history where women are making huge strides it largely speaks to White women. Black women still face additional obstacles that White women do not. White women lean in while Black women push through. Research shows that sponsorship or advocacy is the linchpin in the professional success of women, especially Black women. Most people don’t know the difference between mentorship, sponsorship and coaching and it could be costing them professional success and even financial success.
A mentor is someone who is not directly on your team or within your chain of command that you can go to for advice. They listen to you and provide the benefit of their wisdom based on their experiences. You may be even be able to vent to them. This is a trusted relationship. What you say to your mentor is private and they should never ever divulge what is said in those meetings. Sometimes this is a formal match through a program offered by your company and other times it can just happen naturally.
A sponsor or advocate is someone who is directly related to your team and most likely in your chain of command. This is the person who speaks for you and about you, positively, when you’re not in the room. This person has the political clout and influence to make things happen for you in your career. You don’t always know who these people are. They can about through networking or by being witness to your skill and results. Asking someone to sponsor you doesn’t typically happen. As a champion, this person decides to put their name to you essentially taking responsibility for you and your results. They pound the table for you when opportunities come up that you don’t even know about yet.
A coach is someone who you typically pay to do just what the title implies, coach. If you played sports this person plays a similar role in your life. You can have a professional coach, a career coach, a personal coach, etc. This person will help you set goals, create a plan and hold you accountable every step of the way. The majority of highly successful people have a coach. This person can help you see obstacles and challenges before they appear and devise a strategy.
Research shows that it is crucial for women to have sponsorship in order to realize more professional success. But women tend to gravitate toward other women and there just aren’t enough women in the upper ranks to support this. Women need to include men within their network as well. Black women, generally speaking, are over-mentored and under-sponsored. In her book, Forget a Mentor, Find a Sponsor: The New Way to Fast-Track Your Career, Sylvia Ann Hewlett discusses the importance of sponsorship and how to get it. It’s important that the sponsor be a true advocate because this is going to be a joint venture. Don’t be afraid to have a White male as a sponsor, after all it is their club you’re trying to break into. White males have sponsors too. This is how they achieve a lot of their professional success. But you need a sponsor who understands this isn’t about pushing White males down it’s about bringing women up. All boats rise in a rising tide.
If you have been focused on mentorship and not sponsorship you may be costing yourself valuable time and resources in moving ahead in your career. And if you own your own business sponsorship is just as important especially when trying to land that big client.
Please share your stories of how sponsorship has helped your career or how you helped someone else’s. We want to hear from you. Like and share with your communities to spread the word.
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