Does a Woman need a Sponsor rather than a Mentor?

Sponsorship for Women

A woman protégéeFormal and informal mentoring relationships exist in many organisations. Within these mentoring relationships the mentor may take many roles: being a role model, a sounding board, helping build networks and career support, sometimes simply being there to listen and challenge. However, linked to mentoring, but with clear differences is the role of a sponsor. Is it actually more beneficial for a woman who is seeking to break through the ‘glass ceiling’ to have a sponsor rather than an organisational mentor? Or perhaps she should be greedy and have both!

The Purpose of Sponsorship

Sponsorship is less time intensive than mentoring with fewer meetings and has the purpose of developing individuals’ careers, promoting awareness of and opening up relevant opportunities to progress and ensuring they feel motivated and engaged to stay with their organisation. Sponsoring is most effective for talented groups of individuals where it is deemed that support in opening doors and opportunities to guide them through the “political minefields” that characterise much of organisational life, would be beneficial to the individual and the organisation. So therefore a woman, who may be struggling to promote her own career and integrate herself into the male bastillion of organisational politics and break through any ‘glass ceiling’ in her organisation, may find a sponsor more helpful than a developmental mentor.

Differences between Sponsorship and Mentoring

  • The critical difference between Sponsorship and Mentoring relates to whether the relationship focuses on helping the learner achieve things herself, or focuses on helping make it happen for her.
  • While mentors are normally experienced within the company and not necessarily in a high profile role, the sponsor is almost always more senior, visible and influential
  • A trusted mentor will know their mentee’s innermost doubts and issues; a sponsor will know about an individual’s strengths and aspirations
  • Sponsoring relationships do not normally take up high volumes of time, as long as the sponsor knows a woman’s accomplishments, strengths and aspirations
  • Protégées will be assigned to a sponsor
  • Frequency – the sponsor should meet with the woman 3 or 4 times per year
  • Each session does not need to last more than 60 to 90 minutes.
  • Key skills required – active listening, asking effective questions, giving feedback, affirmation and encouragement are the main competencies the sponsor will require
  • Outside of the meeting the sponsor may help to identify possible opportunities for the woman

The role and responsibilities of the Sponsor

The role of the sponsor will be to:

  • Act as the woman’s internal champion among other senior leaders when opportunities arise for leadership development moves. This involves publicising, promoting and advancing the competencies and strengths of the woman within the right circles and spheres of influence across the organisation and providing active and appropriate sponsorship with its implications of facilitative, authoritative organisational support.
  • Behave as a “guardian angel” to protect the woman in order to advance their interests as they progress through the organisation. This may involve giving active support as well as “protection” if the need arises and creating “safe havens” of relevant support around the organisation in order to reinforce influence and power bases.
  • Open doors and make accessible people of influence and build necessary “bridges” in relationships between the woman and key people.
  • Create high levels of political awareness and the ability to “read” situations, supporting the development of networking and lobbying skills and the ability to develop coalitions, pressure groups and securing the support of influential and power figures.

Certainly some of the Female Talent Mentoring Programmes we have designed and run for clients at Coach Mentoring Ltd are a hybrid of the Sponsorship and Developmental Mentoring Models.  Some clients have requested that we develop both sponsors and mentors for their programmes, whilst others have just asked for pure sponsors. So how does an organisation decide what they need? Certainly as part of the programme design stage, it is important to take into consideration the culture, context and power dimensions within the organisation and what other forces of factors impinge on the talented female development trajectories. In climates, which are fairly supportive to female talent then developmental mentoring can work very effectively. However, in organisations with a very male dominated or hostile climate to women then sponsors can be incredibly useful to promote women’s career progress. Often the developmental mentor can support on many of the psycho-social aspects of the mentoring relationship, whilst the sponsor can concentrate fully on projecting the visibility of the woman forward internally.

So are you intrigued about what will suit your mentoring needs?

Please contact us at Coach Mentoring Ltd for a conversation to discuss sponsorship and developmental mentoring for women.

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