Mentoring Is Not Enough. Women Need Sponsors.

Want to achieve gender parity in your organization? Learn why sponsorship, more than mentoring, is the critical differentiator in helping talented, motivated women advance. 

A boss can make great mentor. But it’s not the same as a sponsor.  

Sponsors have conversations about their team members’ career or long-term professional goals. They talk them up to senior leaders in the organization, and coaches them on how to position themselves for higher levels of responsibility. They move beyond helping team members become more adept at performing in their existing role.  

Sponsorship is a critical factor in helping talented, motivated individuals advance in the business world — and women in particular desperately need this type of support. Despite increased recognition of the disparity between men and women in senior roles, the percentage of women stands at a scant 24 percent globally.  

One reason is that women tend to be over-mentored and under-sponsored, as pointed out in ManpowerGroup’s white paper Women, We Have A Problem. Many women find value in input and feedback — mentoring — from a coalition of professional peers, friends, and family. However, men tend to have more finely developed instincts on how to zero in on a few influential individuals — sponsors — who will help them get ahead.  

Unfortunately, mentoring and sponsoring are frequently confused. ManpowerGroup has long supported the value of developing talent in three focused areas: Education, Experience, and Exposure. This can be a useful paradigm for distinguishing a mentor from a true sponsorship.  

Education is about developing subject matter expertise—the heart of mentoring. A mentor helps others become better at analyzing problems, drawing conclusions, and communicating solutions within the scope of your job. Experience is about gaining first-hand knowledge of business issues—and can be a component of both mentorships and sponsorships. Exposure is the driving force behind a sponsorship through introductions to influential power-brokers.  

Most importantly, a sponsor puts his or her reputation on the line by publicly identifying their protégé. A mentor will talk with you, but a sponsor will talk about you. 

The need is great. ManpowerGroup found that eight out of ten women report difficulty in finding sponsors within their organizations. That may stem in part from many women believing that doing quality work alone is the key that turns the tumblers to the executive boardroom.  

Organizations also need to do their part. Only one in five women have ongoing career conversations with a manager. Such discussions should be mandatory and represent the critical first rung on the ladder to help women advance skills and standing. Finally, senior leaders, both men and women, need to be more attuned and willing to put their organizational capital on the line to help the next generation of talented women leaders succeed.  

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