Why You Need a Sponsor Not a Mentor!

Could your career use an influential advocate?

When you first begin your career, it’s important to enlist a few great mentors. As your career advances toward mid-level opportunities and beyond, you should enlist a diverse slate of mentors, and seek out an elite category of advocate: a sponsor.

“A sponsor is an influential spokesperson for what you are capable of doing,” says Millette Granville, Director of Diversity and Inclusion, Delhaize Group. There are many ways in which a sponsor can use their voice to boost your career, from putting your name forward for a coveted role to adding the weight of their influence to push your proposals forward to shining a spotlight on your strengths and achievements.

A good sponsor can spot strengths you’re not even aware of because they are underdeveloped. What’s more, a sponsor sees how your strengths can add value in areas of the business you’ve yet to explore. Due to their influence, sponsors can open more career doors than you ever thought possible. And they articulate a vision for your career that is bigger than you could ever imagine.

It’s not an exaggeration to say that the right sponsorship can catapult your career to new heights.

Having the support of a sponsor is also like navigating your career wrapped in an extra-thick layer of bubble wrap. Sponsors can protect you during organizational shake-ups—such as an acquisition, re-org, or layoff—mitigating the downside of making bolder, riskier, career moves.

As Kerrie Peraino, Senior Vice President for Human Resources and Chief Talent Officer, American Express, has said: “Having an active advocate completely changes your career.” I’m pretty sure she means change for the better.

Don’t Underestimate the Power of Sponsorship

To truly grasp the impact of sponsorship and the boost it can give your career, here are five facts worth knowing: 

1. There’s a sponsorship gender gap.

Women are less likely than male peers to benefit from sponsorship, according to Sylvia Ann Hewlett, Kerrie Peraino, Laura Sherbin, and Karen Sumberg. In the report, “The Sponsor Effect: Breaking Through the Last Glass Ceiling,” the authors describe their discovery that only 13% of women and 19% of men working full-time for large companies have a sponsor. So while the sponsorship gender gap may be smaller than you’d have guessed, it’s still significant, and one of the reasons why men still outnumber women nearly two to one in top leadership positions.

2. Sponsors empower you to make bold moves.

The authors of “The Sponsor Effect” also found that people who have the backing of a powerful sponsor are at least 22% more likely to summon the courage to ask for stretch assignments and raises. Having a sponsor is like having a career safety net, which makes it easier to be bolder, take risks, and ask for what’s important to you. And, as other studies have shown, whether it’s a pay raise, a promotion, or a plum assignment, people who ask for these benefits are much more likely to get them.

3. Sponsors enhance your career satisfaction.

How happy are you, right now, with the pace of your career growth? According to the study’s authors, women and men feel more satisfied with their career advancement when they have sponsors. If you feel like your career has plateaued or that you’re being overlooked for opportunities, a sponsor can help.

4. Sponsors transfer a “halo” of power to protégés.

When reporting on sponsorship research conducted by Hewlett’s organization, The Center for Talent Innovation, Jenna Goudreau, a writer for Business Insider, noted, “Four U.S.-based and global studies clearly show that sponsorship—not mentorship—is how power is transferred in the workplace.” If women are less likely to be sponsored than their male colleagues, then it’s no surprise that it’s more difficult for women to gain influence. Whether your goal is to launch a new product, turn around a struggling team, or attract broader responsibilities, having an influential ally in your corner makes it easier.

5. You’re underestimating the benefits of sponsorship.

Here’s one final nugget from the research referenced in “The Sponsor Effect”: “We found that the majority of ambitious women underestimate the pivotal role sponsorship plays in their advancement—not just within their current firm, but throughout their career and across their industry.”

If you’re an ambitious woman, then it’s likely that you, too, are underestimating the benefits sponsorship can confer on your career.

Here’s a collection of four articles about sponsors and the role they play, how they differ from mentors, why you absolutely need to get one, and where to begin your search.

• Are You Overmentored and Undersponsored?

• Ask an Exec: Can My Mentor Be My Sponsor?

• Sponsors: The People Who Can Open More Career Doors Than You Ever Thought Possible

• 7 Ways to Spot a Potential Sponsor

If it feels like there’s a brick wall standing between you and your next career breakthrough (or if you’d like to act preemptively to avoid future barriers) having a sponsor can make a huge difference. Remember, it’s better to face those obstacles with someone who has your back!

Jo Miller

A leading authority on women’s leadership, Jo Miller is a sought-after, dynamic, and engaging speaker, delivering more than 70 speaking presentations annually to audiences of up to 1,200 women. Her expertise lies in helping women lead, climb, and thrive in their corporate careers. Jo has traveled widely in Europe, North America, Asia Pacific, and the Middle East to deliver keynotes and teach workshops for women’s leadership conferences, women’s professional associations, and Fortune 1000 corporate women’s initiatives. Jo is CEO of leadership development, consulting and research firm Be Leaderly. Learn more about her speaking engagements at www.JoMiller.net and follow @Jo_Miller on Twitter.

25 Questions to Ask a Mentor

Whenever I’m asked “What are some of the best questions to ask a ...

Four Types of Questions To Ask Your Mentor

Have conversations with your mentor gotten a bit repetitive lately? Perhaps you approached ...

25 Songs For Your Leadership Playlist

What are your all-time favorite leadership songs — the ones that make you ...

How to Shut Down a Colleague Who Takes Credit for Your Work

Has this ever happened to you? You’re in a meeting and the unthinkable ...

5 Ways to be a Leader, Not a Manager

Have you ever wondered about the difference between a manager and a leader? ...

11 Leadership Lessons Learned

Here are 11 lessons I’ve learned about leadership—mostly from much-admired colleagues, and just ...

100 Leadership Qualities

What are your leadership strengths? That’s a question I ask in a survey ...

10 Killer Leadership Skills: The Great Differentiators?

Last week at Hallmark I hosted a couple gentlemen from a partner company. ...

Influencing Without Authority—Using Your Six Sources of Influence

I am in the difficult situation of being unofficial project lead, responsible for ...

9 Traits of Exceptional Leaders

Truly great leaders are hard to come by, but it seems everyone thinks ...

Unhappy at Work? Persuade Your Boss to Redefine Your Job.
Unhappy at Work? Persuade Your Boss to Redefine Your Job.

Every morning, Jonas backs into a parking spot at work so he can leave faster

If You’re Not Seizing Stretch Assignments at Work, You’re Doing It Wrong.
If You’re Not Seizing Stretch Assignments at Work, You’re Doing It Wrong.

These bonus opportunities have the power to boost your leadership cred and wholly transform your

The Case for Why Millennial Women Should Job-Hop
The Case for Why Millennial Women Should Job-Hop

There are strong arguments for and against the debated practice, but for millennial women, job-hopping

Infographic: How to Slay a Stretch Assignment
Infographic: How to Slay a Stretch Assignment

Recent years have been full of talk about how to elevate women at work. Have you

Panel Presentations: Does Speaker Order Really Matter?
Panel Presentations: Does Speaker Order Really Matter?

On speaker panels, does the panelist order matter? If you’ve ever attended or spoken on

4 Tips for Failing Forward
4 Tips for Failing Forward

After you make a mistake, it’s easy to focus intently on your defects. And then

Press Release: Be Leaderly’s Selena Rezvani Wins 2019 Croly Award for Excellence in Journalism
Press Release: Be Leaderly’s Selena Rezvani Wins 2019 Croly Award for Excellence in Journalism

CEDAR RAPIDS, Iowa—July 9, 2019—The General Federation of Women’s Clubs is pleased to honor Selena

4 Steps to a Flexible Work Arrangement
4 Steps to a Flexible Work Arrangement

Are you hungry for a little more flexibility in your day?  If so, you’re not

Dealing with a Bossy Coworker
Dealing with a Bossy Coworker

You might expect the occasional “order” or “command” from your boss. But it’s a whole

Press Release: Be Leaderly Wins Gold & Silver at the 2019 Stevie Awards
Press Release: Be Leaderly Wins Gold & Silver at the 2019 Stevie Awards

CEDAR RAPIDS, Iowa—June 11, 2019—Be Leaderly, a globally recognized provider of women’s leadership development and

Ask Jo: How can I thank my mentor?

Question: I have an incredible mentor. She ...

Teamwork is a Skill. It Takes Practice!

Everyone wants to lead, or be a ...

It’s Worth the Risk (I promise)

This is Sarah. She’s one of my ...

100 Leadership Qualities

What are your leadership strengths? That’s a ...

Leaderly Quote: Great Leaders Know When to Step Aside

“Great leaders know when to step aside.” ...

At Be Leaderly, our mission is a simple one: To provide proven career strategies that help you lead, climb, and thrive as a rising woman of influence. If you’re ready to lead, we’re here to support and inspire you.

Copyright 2019, Be Leaderly