Mentorship is Good, Sponsorship is Better
Mentorship supports personal development; sponsorship is laser-focused on professional development plus advancement. “A sponsor is someone who is actively advocating for your success and staking their personal capital on your development,” says Carole Watkins, chief human resources Officer of Dublin, Ohio-based Cardinal Health. “When there is [a] talent-planning meeting, it is a fortunate woman who has a sponsor sitting at the table who can say about a particular woman, ‘I’ve seen her work.
I believe she is a good fit for this role and let me give you three reasons why.’”
Enlightened CEOs are also in the best position to challenge certain micro-inequities. For example, male mentors sometimes undermine the mentorship process by fixating on not allowing female mentees to fail. “It’s important for all young managers to have the opportunity to fail and be mentored through that experience,” says Noreen Beaman, CEO of Brinker Capital, a $13 billion investment management firm. Unfortunately, given a choice between coaching a woman mentee to try something easy or taking a risk at which she might fail but grow, some male mentors will unconsciously encourage women mentees to go for the easy win instead of the riskier, but more rewarding course. “CEOs can challenge this dynamic by encouraging women leaders to be as bold as their male counterparts,” she says.
As women assume authority, organizations often become less hierarchical and new opportunities for learning emerge. Elle Kaplan recalls that when she was named VP of sales at Lexion Capital Management, she agreed to be mentored by a male sales director she subsequently hired. “My attitude was I should be able to reach out to the people who have the best experience to coach me, wherever [or not] they reside in the hierarchy,” she says. The coaching helped improve her game. Few men in her position would consider asking for mentorship from someone junior to them in authority.