SponsorIt appears we’re at the height of the women’s movement with frequent front-page headlines and media attention focusing on women’s empowerment. The Women’s Empowerment Movement was reignited in part due to Lilly Ledbetter – who fought against gender pay discrimination, which led to President Obama signing his very first bill into law “the Lilly Ledbetter Act” which serves as a huge advantage for women who file an equal-pay lawsuit regarding pay discrimination. Then there’s Sandra Fluke who amplified the call for access to contraception, rallying even more women to join the fight for women’s issues after Rush Limbaugh referred to her as a “slut” for advocating for free access to birth control.

Most recently the women’s empowerment movement has been accelerated by Facebook’s COO Sheryl Sandberg who coined the mantra “lean in” which encourages women to self advance their careers.

The last few weeks my inbox has been inundated with stark perspectives on the best practices for women’s advancement. Buried in all the information about what women should or should not do, I came across a golden nugget of information in an article in Forbes magazine written by Contributor Frieda Klotz who makes the case that women need sponsors and not mentors.

In the article Klotz details her interview with Nicky Gilmour (Founder of Glass Hammer – an online community for women executives) about the effectiveness of mentors.

Gilmour’s analysis is “A mentor might tell you generic advice, a sponsor will advocate on your behalf to help secure work projects that will be more likely to help you advance. Sponsors generally wear your T-shirt in a meeting you’re not in.”

We’ve all had someone at some point that gave advice or guided us along the way from the sidelines. That’s the traditional role of a mentor. A sponsor on the other hand, does more than guide you from the sidelines he/she purposely goes to bat for you. The distinction between a mentor and sponsor is something to consider as many women are changing career paths, excelling in the work place, and/or looking for guidance. Instead of seeking a mentor consider seeking a sponsor.

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  • Mademoiselle

    I disagree. My latest career move was due largely in part to advocacy by a team of white men who took notice of my work a while ago and put me on their short list because of it. They advocated so much they even took the reigns to quash the red tape my old department tried to put me through to stop my leave. Prior to this I’ve also had white women advocate for me. I had to learn the hard way, and am still learning, that advocacy (regardless of race or gender) requires a lot of my own championing in the beginning, and to do this, I had to go through the motions of going on lunches and happy hours with people who hold higher titles than me so we could build a rapport, stopping to chat with people in the halls about business news and projects that I’m interested in even if I’m not on the project team so they can hear my thought processes and bounce impromptu questions off me, making sure I had meaningful contributions and challenging questions in amy meeting that included people from other departments, and listening for opportunities to volunteer to help a team that may be shorthanded for certain deliverables. I can’t say white people sit around waiting to find their next black protege, but white advocates do exist. Corporate America runs on networking, and building your network depends on what you do to humbly, yet impactfully make your presence known so that people have a reason to drop your name when you’re not around. Yes, people only go to bat for people that remind them of themselves, but remember that you do have intelligence and work experience that should speak for itself, and smart people will remind other smart people of themselves even if they’re different races.

  • Mademoiselle

    You can down vote me all you want, but if you live your life believing that nothing you do will grab the attention of white people in a way that benefits you, then you’re voluntarily holding yourself back. I didn’t get where I am overnight, nor did I get there without hard work, and I certainly didn’t get there without help. What you’re putting out is a self-fulfilling prophecy. You believe white people aren’t checking for you, so you opt out of giving them a reason to, which leaves you with no white advocates. If that works for you, fine. Social connections don’t just fall from the sky. Aside from your family members, everyone you know on a personal level is a result of the effort you put in to befriending them. It works no differently in a professional setting. If there’s someone you want to meet and learn about their position/team, initiate it. If there’s a department you see yourself in, build that bridge to get over there. If you’re sitting around waiting for people to randomly invite you out for a pow wow (or worse, if you think it’ll happen just as quickly as you snap your fingers), though, good luck with that. No footwork equals no visibility, which equals no advocacy. That’s how professional networks operate, and it has much less to do with race than you espouse.

  • Mademoiselle

    I have no clue why my comments refuse to go where they’re supposed to. Sigh.