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The Key Ingredient to Propelling your Career Forward

Here’s a story about two remarkable women. They are both diligent, curious, and they both exceed expectations; however, while one of these women has advanced to a senior position, the other woman has stagnated in mid-level management. You may ask yourself, “But why? Both of them appeared to have equal opportunities with powerful and dedicated mentors to guide them.” With a closer look, this perceived equal opportunity breaks down; the woman who held the senior level position had someone, such as a sponsor, by her side, empowering her to thrive. And that made all the difference.

Mentorship is an integral part of career development, whereas sponsorship is vital for career advancement. A mentor, according to Catalyst research, is an individual outside of your work environment who supports and guides you through your career evolution. Think of him or her as your role model. Meanwhile, sponsors are your allies; they protect you and help you grow your career by advocating for you behind closed doors. You can think of them as your biggest fans. Your sponsors discuss and recognize your success in the presence of high stakeholders; they eagerly nominate you for major projects; and they acknowledge your contributions publicly to increase your visibility. Sponsors are often influential high profile senior level individuals within your company who are able to propel your career forward. Bonnie Marcus often refers to sponsors as your “Get Out of Jail Free Card [from Monopoly].”

So, what can sponsorship do for women like us? I believe it can help us break the glass ceiling.

Let’s talk statistics. Analyzing the statistics surrounding sponsorship will help solidify the idea of how sponsors with high capital, who advocate for their female protégés, can help women break the glass ceiling. Based on Sylvia Ann Hewlett studies on sponsorship, the percentage of women who asked to take on high profile projects grew from 36% to 44% when they had a sponsor. Furthermore in her article “The Real Benefit of Finding a Sponsor,” Hewlett states that 38% of sponsored women feel comfortable to negotiate their salary, while only 30% of unsponsored women have the courage to negotiate. According to Forbes’ article “Why Don’t More Women Negotiate?” the lack of comfort to negotiate contributes to significant revenue loss for the average ambitious woman.

The advantages of having a sponsor are clear. Sylvia Ann Hewlett’s article shows that influential sponsors can equip you to grow by 22-30% within your profession by providing guidance through challenging times. Sponsors, vouching for you, are the ones who help you climb the rungs of the senior management ladder. The impact that a sponsor can make through their sponsorship is too substantial to be ignored. It’s time we started searching for sponsors within our companies at the same rate we search for mentors. Maybe then we will witness a rise in percentage of female Fortune 500 CEOs from single digit to double digits, as well as an increase in female senior executives.

Only 1 out of every 5 C-suite executives is a women, according to LeanIn.Org and McKinsey & Co. research, and it’s time we changed that.

The importance of sponsorship reaches beyond the protégé. Not only do the protégés benefit from their “biggest fans,” but the sponsors also benefit from protégés. The Catalyst’s “Sponsoring Women To Success” research demonstrates that protégés can be a valuable source of information for a company. A protégé can provide details on both the organization and the current events at all the different managerial levels necessary for day to day business. Additionally, sponsors gain the opportunity to explore the needs of the company from a new lens. Lastly, sponsors have claimed that taking on a sponsorship role has given them a sense of pride and has refined their leadership skills. When laid out, the benefits of sponsorship and sponsoring women are indisputable.

Since the benefits are so clear, it becomes imperative to advise the sponsors and protégés about the building blocks that will establish a strong relationship between the two. Catalyst research concludes that there are four major mutually beneficial traits. Protégés and sponsors demonstrating the traits of trust, honesty, open communication, and commitment will more likely develop a powerful and effective partnership.

Increased awareness of sponsorship is a powerful catalyst for change. Your talent and hard work are key contributors to your accomplishments and success, but your sponsors are the gatekeepers to high stakes opportunities. They open the doors to career advancement by properly showcasing your performance to enhance your visibility. They guide you in making strategic moves and creating a powerful network. They help you overcome inadvertent barriers. Sponsors can be your pivotal ingredient in breaking the glass ceiling.

Ana Medinac
2018 RTC Fellow
Rewriting the Code- Empowering College Women in Tech

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