By The Linkage Editorial Team
It’s great to have friends, right? Of course it is. And we’ve all heard how important it is for women execs to have a mentor—a professional friend who can be a role model, sounding board, and maybe provide emotional support. But countless studies have shown that when it comes to career development, a Sponsor—a senior manager with organizational power that’s not only mentoring but actively advocating for you—will trump a friendly mentor every time.
Sponsorship > Mentorship
What makes sponsorship so powerful and effective? It’s a two-way street. When an organization’s high-ranking inner circle makes a conscious decision to sponsor—advocate for, and strategically engage with, the junior execs below them regardless of gender—rather than to just “mentor” them, a strategic alliance is created. The organization benefits from a protégé that’s giving 100% in terms of loyalty and performance in order to sustain the commitment of the sponsor, and the protégé benefits from having an advocate in the inner circle working for her advancement.
Why Women Need Sponsors
According to published reports, women in the U.S. enter the white-collar workforce in greater numbers than men—53% to 47% men—yet as employees in large corporations move up the ladder, men advance disproportionately. “The data shows what seems to be common sense. Women who have sponsors usually progress higher and faster than women who don’t,” says Susan Brady, Executive Vice President, Global Programming & Market Strategy at Linkage.
Of those women polled, 70% who don’t have a sponsor resist confronting their boss about a raise. But, with the backing of a sponsor, 38% of women polled summon the courage to negotiate. Along those same lines, only 36% of women without a sponsor will ask their management for a stretch assignment while the percentage of women willing to stretch stretches to 44% with the backing of a sponsor.
By standing for their protégés’ advancement, sponsors also help women circumnavigate the double bind that many women experience in the workplace when they advocate for themselves. When done well, sponsors provide highly effective intervention to accelerate a woman’s career velocity.
Why Organizations Need Sponsors
An organizational culture where sponsorship is the norm promotes leadership and forces sponsors (as well as the people they sponsor) to grow in their respective careers and refine their own leadership skills—ultimately creating more effective teams.
Sponsorship becomes imperative as one reaches the top where fewer positions are available and competition is greater for those positions. By creating a broad base of support (through sponsorship) that spans all organizational levels, the company is able to strengthen its internal network.
Sponsorship benefits organizational performance by expanding the talent pool, increasing employee commitment to the company, and fostering a “pay it forward” attitude within the workplace.
Sponsorship also allows organizations to serve a more diverse customer base by promoting women’s advancement to leadership positions which subsequently enables the organization to attract and retain more female employees.
Landing a Sponsor
Just as you must stand out to land a job, it is imperative to have a distinct personal brand—a set of skills or credentials that will burnish the sponsor’s image and extend his or her reach—to land an influential sponsor.
So, let’s hear it: Do you have a sponsor, or mentor, or are you on your own?
If you’re interested in learning more about cultivating successful sponsor relationships and other issues that face women executives today, check out Linkage’s Women in Leadership Institute™.