“Mentoring” often pops up when discussing diversity and inclusion and, more recently, “sponsorship” as well. But, how do they improve diversity? How do they differ? Is one better than the other? Read on to clear up any questions you may have about mentoring and sponsorships.
First of all, what’s the difference?
Mentors help their mentees develop personally and professionally through advice and confidence-building. A mentor can work for a different company than their mentee and can be at any level or expertise, so far as they can give their mentee impactful insight. The best mentoring relationships require a strong connection, allowing both the mentor and the mentee to grow as they exchange insight and challenge each other.
Sponsors and their proteges, on the other hand, have a far more professionally-driven relationship. Sponsors are directly invested in the career progress of their proteges and use their influence and power to gain more challenging projects, promotions, pay rises and network connections for their proteges. The protege must step up to the plate and demonstrate they are capable enough for their sponsor to advocate for them. A strong mentor relationship can also organically develop into a sponsorship if the mentee and the mentor are in the same company.
Sponsorship is about putting your name and reputation on the line for someone else. It could be as simple as recommending someone for a new role, yet it’s one of the most powerful cultural tools any organisation has.
Lynne Doughtie, Chairman and CEO of KPMG US
How does mentoring and sponsorship help diversity?
Mentors empower their mentees and sponsors help proteges get their break. Both of these qualities are vastly important for successful diversity and inclusion. Diverse individuals often struggle to navigate their career because they don’t have access to insider knowledge or may be unconsidered from those above because of unconscious bias. Mentoring advice serves as a guide to diverse individuals and sponsorship gives diverse proteges the opportunity to shine and make connections when they may be overlooked.
Mentorship, in particular, is not limited to just the workplace. While sponsorship can only happen within your company because it focuses on career progress, mentoring can take place anywhere. Diversity pipelines can be weak because diverse individuals aren’t encouraged to enter certain sectors from a young age. In DiversityQ’s conversations with industry experts, many point out to working with school children and young adults to make genuine progress in diversity. Consider going to schools and local communities to find young people to mentor.
For careers, sponsorship is more effective
Sponsorships are actually more effective than mentoring in delivering real-world results because they directly create career progress. That being said, studies have shown that mentoring is still very impactful as well. In Catalyst’s study about mentorship and advancement, Gordon M Nixon, the President and CEO of the Royal Bank of Canada said:
People tend to incorrectly use the words “mentor” and “sponsor” interchangeably. We’ve all had mentors who have offered advice, but sponsors are the people inside our company who have helped us get to senior levels. Sponsors are what you really need to succeed.
Ultimately, mentoring and sponsorship compliment each other well! Mentoring instils all-important confidence and insight to get people ready for their career journey, and sponsorship delivers the concrete steps to embark on it. What’s more, workplace mentoring and especially sponsorship demonstrates that a company is actively invested in their diverse employees, making diverse individuals feel included and engaging higher-ups with diversity initiatives.