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Is a Mentor the Best Advocate for Advancement?


Who’s your best advocate for advancement?

I just read an article by Teresa Briggs, vice chair and West region managing partner at Deloitte called Why Mentoring Won’t Create More Female Leaders. As a huge proponent for the benefit of having and being a mentor, I was intrigued by the title. 

Teresa Briggs is a believer in having a sponsor rather than a mentor. What’s the difference? I actually wrote an article about it called Mentors, Sponsors and Advisory Boards for Purposeful Women.

Here’s the difference between having a mentor and a sponsor:

  • A mentorship is often a person that gives you advice on how to move from here to there or maneuver a situation. They talk only to you about what you should do.
  • A sponsorship is a person that talks to you about your goals, guides you in the right direction and endorses you to others when you are not around and could help facilitate your desired next steps. These sponsors are often critical to your promotions or next position or initiative because they are often highlighting your skills and contributions to the “right” people.

In Teresa’s article, she speaks more about the fact that a sponsor will be on the lookout for opportunities where you might be a good fit. They are your own personal marketing voice, putting your name forth to people who can help advance your career.

I’ve been with Deloitte for 33 years, and while Deloitte is currently a leader in the professional services community in paving the way for women in leadership positions, there were far fewer options when I was coming up the ranks. Fortunately, early in my career at Deloitte I had a sponsor who was incredibly supportive in building my professional confidence, by opening doors to clients and business networks and helping me gain exposure on high profile initiatives. It was my sponsor that actively lobbied for me when there was a senior opening in Deloitte’s Silicon Valley office. Knowing I had a champion always advocating on my behalf gave me the confidence to take calculated risks and pursue new opportunities.

A Sponsor Helps Get You to the Next Level

Teresa’s sponsor at Deloitte was a man and this is important to understand, especially for women in technology where most of the leaders are men. While mentors can help you create a personal brand, assist in developing personal growth and help to build confidence, a sponsor will help take you to the next level.

In STEM fields, where men are the primary leaders, you may be well served by seeking a male sponsor to help you find new opportunities and to be a spokesperson on your behalf. Increasing the number of women in technology and in leadership positions is not just a project for women, but men and women together will help to make a difference.

Men should take on this challenge in order to create strong, female leaders. These women will in turn sponsor more women, creating a cycle of sustained growth and promotion. Opening doors and advocating on individuals’ behalf supports future female leaders in believing their opinions matter, making smart decisions, and maximizing personal and professional growth.

How to Develop a Sponsor Relationship

In a Fast Company article written by Jane Porter on the same topic, she offers five ways to develop a relationship with a sponsor. One of the interesting points is that you don’t share your insecurities with a sponsor. A mentor is someone with whom you share your concerns, however, with a sponsor you only want to show your confident, successful side.

Sharing take-aways from Sylvia Ann Hewlett, author of Forget a Mentor, Find a Sponsor.

… you want to put your best foot forward for this person (sponsor), inspiring confidence in them that you can handle what’s put in front of you. Remember: Sponsors can be gatekeepers to your next promotion, round of funding, or significant career move. Make sure they see how competent and reliable you are.

As you look to advance your career, you will benefit from having both a mentor and a sponsor. Each one will serve you differently as you look to gain a more significant leadership role within your industry.

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