Why You Need a Work Sponsor

Work SponsorWe have all been told the importance of having a mentor at work, someone who gives you career (and sometimes personal) advice.  Mentors help you work through your issues and act as a sounding board when you’re having a real tough day, or not sure how to handle a particular situation.  A mentor is someone who has had some experience within the same industry and company, who helps you learn more about your role and how you can successfully progress through your career journey.

Sometimes, however, this relationship is not enough.  What if you are seeking a new position?  What if you want to be next in line for a promotion?  Who will speak up for you?  A mentor does not usually play this role.  This is where a sponsor comes in to play.

Is a mentor enough?  If you want that job or promotion, you might need a sponsor.

Mentors are clearly a valuable resource and many companies have formal mentoring programs. Sponsorship is a newer term that is popping up throughout the business world.  So what exactly is a sponsor? They go beyond giving feedback and advice to use their influence to help you propel your career.

Ideally a sponsor is higher up in your company than your manager or boss.  Your sponsor may be in an executive level position.  He or she is someone who has influence.  Your sponsor is that person who will actively advocate for you, when you are not there to vouch for yourself.  They will campaign for you to get to the top of the promotion list and/or high potential list.

“Everyone’s heard of the importance of having a mentor who gives advice and how to develop, but a sponsor helps you get ahead,” says Christine Silva, director of research at Catalyst, the leading nonprofit membership organization expanding opportunities for women in business. “He or she is someone who’s senior in your organization who will advocate on your behalf for development and promotion opportunities.”

Minorities and women can especially benefit from obtaining a sponsor.  A Catalyst survey showed that women with just a mentor are less likely to get promoted than those who have a sponsor (Read: Why Men Get More Promotions Than Women).

Other research shows that minorities tend to leave organizations when they do not feel that they have someone to advocate for them for advancement opportunities.  Minorities are frequently left out of relationships with the dominant members of an organization’s power structure who could provide needed career advice.  In a survey conducted by the National Black Chamber of Commerce, 34% of people of color said they would have very likely stayed at their job if their employer had offered better managers who recognized their abilities.

A mentor and a sponsor can be one in the same person.  However, a sponsor may be less accessible than a mentor because they are higher up in the organization.  You may not be able to reach them as easily as you would your mentor.  Therefore, you should consider having both a work mentor and a work sponsor.

So how do you find a sponsor?

This can be tricky. If you are not viewed as a high potential candidate, it may be difficult to secure a sponsor. Some companies do not reveal that they have “sponsorships” even to the individuals being sponsored.  You might want to discuss your desire for a sponsor with your boss, mentor or even your HR representative.  HR might be able to share if the company has a formal sponsorship program.  If you are getting vibes that it may not be the right time or that you need more experience, you might want to gather more information to understand what would need to do to qualify for a sponsor.

That being said the ideal sponsor is someone who is influential within the organization (a key decision maker).  You will need to be visible to top leadership to be considered for sponsorship and your accomplishments must exceed expectations.

You really want someone to want to sponsor you…to come to you and suggest a sponsorship relationship.  If you don’t think that will occur, it is ok for you to seek out a sponsor but you must do this very carefully by cultivating a relationship with the potential sponsor. You cannot just approach a senior leader and say: “Hey, I am looking for a sponsor. Would you consider me?”  It will take time to build a relationship and prove that you are sponsorship material.

Do you have a mentor or sponsor?  How have they helped you succeed in your career?  Tell us in the comments below.

Go for it!

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