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Sponsorship + Mentorship: We all need a little bit of both

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Earlier this week, I had the distinct privilege to participate in a lively panel discussion sponsored by Women in PR (WPR) about the virtues (and sometimes) the limitations of both sponsorship and mentorship for women.

According to the Catalyst Institute, sponsorship for women is especially important.

Much of our discussion last night revolved around these very points and focused on how women could go about identifying those inside their organisations that will advocate for them by opening up opportunities to advance.

And as I thought more about the debate today, I began questioning why so many women don’t take on this critical step in their career.  I think (I actually know this from personal experience!)  a crisis in confidence is one reason.  Really knowing our worth is another.   We need to be crystal clear in articulating what we want and we need to be relentless about finding the men and women in our organisations and in our extended networks to help us realise our goals.

I believe that mentors have an equally important role to play in helping women advance their careers in the way that they want.  Mentors are critical for providing prudent, practical advice by sharing experience and hopefully a little bit of wisdom.  Mentors provide a sounding board and reassurance and unlike a professional coach, their role is to focus on the needs of their mentee and support them in achieving their personal and career goals.  Who doesn’t need that?

Whether it is a sponsor or a mentor, women have to take control of our careers and be the architects of our own destinies.    But we don’t have to alone.

Sponsorship matters, especially to women. “Good sponsors can supercharge a woman’s career by providing her with access to essential networks, bringing her achievements to the attention of senior-level executives, and recommending her for key assignments,” said Ilene H. Lang, President & CEO of Catalyst. “Effective sponsors also provide career coaching and guidance that enable protégés to make broader and more strategic contributions to their organizations.”

Previous research shows that women can be penalized for exhibiting self-promoting behavior considered acceptable in men but unappealing in women. Because good sponsors recognize and reward talented employees by speaking up on their behalf, sponsorship can help high-performing female employees subvert this double bind.