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Why Women Need a Career Sponsor And a Mentor

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“Women are often over mentored and under sponsored”

Last month the Women in PR networking group held a panel debate hosted by Newgate Communications in London, looking at the veritable merits of mentors and sponsors for PR professionals. We heard four different perspectives from senior industry figures in the agency world, and a leading entrepreneur in Heather who has herself had 3 sponsors:

  • Fenella Grey, MD of Porter Novelli
  • Denise Kauffman, Partner & CEO of Ketchum London
  • Deborah Saw, Vice Chair & Senior Partner, Newgate Communications
  • Heather Jackson, Chair and Founder of An Inspirational Journey

WPR in partnership with PR Week runs a successful mentoring scheme, and there’s no doubt that a mentor is a huge support to women in our industry, but according to Deborah Saw, “Women are often over mentored and under sponsored”.

So, what’s the difference?  According to Saw, a mentor offers advice, while a sponsor will accelerate your career.  One is a support, the other will challenge and push you, and -according to Harvard Business Study, catapult you up the career ladder.  Staggeringly you are x10 more likely to get a promotion if you have a sponsor as evidenced by the report.  Why is it then that women have twice as many mentors as men, but half as many sponsors?

Sheryl Sandberg’s success is in part attributed to her sponsors – Eric Schmidt and Larry Summers.  Sponsorship is now evident in one fifth of all US firms. It’s a growing trend in the corporate world, and one that shows tangible benefits.  So why aren’t women benefiting from sponsorship?  Why is there no formal industry-wide sponsorship programme?

It seems sponsors are hard to come by, and many men and women just don’t consider seeking one out.  According to Heather Jackson, there is an art to picking a sponsor and you need to be thorough and thoughtful in your approach.  Heather, a 3x sponsee herself, advises that you need to be both direct and strategic, putting in the time to research, target and engage with your sponsor.  You need to earn their support and be prepared to act on their advice.  This relationship, she recounts, is not for the faint-hearted – and can be a rollercoaster.

There are those out there making huge progress in this area. Denise Kauffman and Fenella Grey, flying the flag for Omnicom for Ketchum and Porter Novelli respectively, are proud to report that 75% of leadership within their group is female.  There is an active community that sponsors women (“Omniwomen”) that supports and champions women of all levels.

To truly address some of the issues we face in our industry, the panel en masse advises us to seek out and access mentors and sponsors.  While accelerating our own careers, we’ll be in a strong position to bring up the rest of our peers within the industry.  With such stark statistics demonstrating the success sponsoring brings, this event felt like a call to arms for all of us to not only seek out sponsors, but offer our services as a sponsor.  With more women sponsors we are better equipped to address endemic issues like the gender pay gap.

It’s worth a listen to the Missing Female Executives podcast from Business Daily, which aired on the BBC World Service on Monday 10th July.   It opens with stark research from The Pipeline launched this week which shows that only 16% of FTSE350 companies have women on their executive committees. Shockingly, there is a YOY increase in the number of FTSE companies who have NO women on their exec committees. Their research shows that females at the top encourage other women on to the exec committees, perhaps through sponsorship or unofficially via mentorship.

It also revealed that firms with 25% or more women on the executive committee double their profit margin.  It’s not just about hitting quotas or being PC – it’s the smart choice for business.