Who’s in Your Corner:  Mentors vs. Sponsors?

Who’s in Your Corner: Mentors vs. Sponsors?

November 20, 2013

Annette Maggi, MS, RD, FAND
Executive Director, RDBA

According to an article in the Harvard Business Review in September of 2010, high potential women are over-mentored and under-sponsored compared to their male peers.  This fact alone is impacting women's slower advancement to higher leadership levels of their organizations.  As you look to advance your career in retail, it's essential to leverage the influence power of sponsors.

 A common question is how mentors and sponsors differ.  Mentors are typically people who have expertise in a particular area where you are trying to expand your skills.  Or they are experienced within your company, and can help you more successfully manage corporate politics and drive projects forward.  Mentors provide coaching in a variety of areas.

Sponsors, on the other hand, use their influence with senior leadership in your company to advocate for you.  They have organizational clout, and can open doors for you.  They sell your abilities to others in the organization because believe strongly in your potential.

 To identify and secure a sponsor within your organization or industry, be clear in your career path and what you want from a sponsor.  Consider individuals who are at least two levels above your position and who have access to key decision-makers in the company.  Think, too, about style, and whether or not you'll "click" with potential sponsors.

Individuals at the right level of the organization are likely to be extremely busy, so expect rejection in approaching them about sponsorship.  Clearly communicate the value you bring to the company, and be willing to tailor the relationship in a way that accommodates their workload and availability.  It’s a good idea to have a short list of individuals who would be beneficial as sponsors in case your top pick is not available. 

While mentors can positively impact your career over time, sponsors can lead to more promotions and increased compensation more quickly.  As most women tend to be over-mentored and under-sponsored, developing a sponsor relationship may be just what you need to take your career to the next level.