Finding a great job that allows you to show your talent, obtain satisfaction and put your career on the success track is many people’s dream. Today that dream is becoming increasingly hard to pursue, with the economic crisis preventing many employers from hiring and a consequently disproportionate increase in competition for the few available places.
So, many people are choosing to stay put to try to maximize their experience so they can improve their prospects down the line. You may already have benefited from a mentor, someone capable of inspiring you and from whom you can learn. Although finding the right mentor can be valuable, there is sometimes a risk that you can be “mentored to death”. But if your mentor proves to be a proper sponsor, this could make all the difference and allow your career to take off.
This is something that Eleanor Tabi Haller-Jorden,president of The Paradigm Forum GmbH (TPF) – a global think tank and consultancy focused on creating innovative workplaces – is passionate about, as she explained at a recent Lake Geneva branch of the Organization of Women in International Trade (OWIT) conference. “Research into this started in 1993 and today it still shows that doing a good job not enough. In particular, women who assume that meritocracy is alive well in the workplace all too often find that the key to career advancement is not who you know but who knows you,” she said. So what is the crucial difference between mentoring and sponsorship? Having a mentor basically means having someone to advise you and act as a sounding board; it tends to happen more frequently – regardless of gender or job position. Finding the right sponsor means finding someone willing to invest in your career and stand as a guarantor for you and your merits and your capabilities. “Mentoring is definitely valuable and can teach you a lot,” Haller-Jorden explained, “but at the end of the day you really need somebody who will open doors, be an active promoter of your talent and who will ensure that you don’t get lost.” In fact, she pointed out that social studies show is that much men’s mentoring turns into a sponsorship, but the same does not apply for women. “Women’s priorities are often presumed to be just reconciling work and family and so they can end up being over-mentored but under-sponsored.”
“One of the benefits of sponsorship is to get you and your talent better known, especially for women who aim to reach a leadership position, where stereotypes abound about the process of engaging in a professional relationship. This is sometimes confirmed when women find themselves in a leadership position without being properly prepared,” said Haller-Jorden. “Working with women’s organizations like OWIT is important. I think many women are hungry for new perspectives based on facts and evidence-based research to dispel some of the speculation out there. A study I was involved a while ago showed that many women feel uncomfortable about showing what they can do, especially when this might mean questioning leadership.”
According to research and social experiments conducted in companies, respect of hierarchy is the main factor preventing people from showing their talent or even discovering it. Furthermore, mentors often make assumptions about their employees’ capabilities, whereas mentoring should be a starting point for finding and consolidating talent. “To get to sponsorship we should not be afraid to show our aspirations, even if based on gender differences,” said Haller-Jorden.
More than 60% of women at the conference noted they had had a mentor, but that this rarely turned into sponsorship afterwards. Sharing and learning through other people’s experience can be a valuable first step towards find a sponsor and sometimes to finding out more about yourself and your skills. Organizations like OWIT aim to enable professional women to expand their networks.“I think attending these kinds of seminars and sharing personal and professional experience with other people enables you to better know yourself and to find out more about how to enhance your talent and your skills. And in this case it could be a good opportunity to find a good sponsor as well,” saidNasya Dimitrova co-president of OWIT Lake Geneva.
Networking and mentoring have long been essential for professional advancement, but nowadays having a sponsor – somebody willing to bet on you – is increasingly necessary.