Learn the core difference between mentorship and sponsorship to implement them in your company.
Mentorship and sponsorship are types of relationships that support employees in career development and entrancement. The difference is that mentorship is about someone providing advice and feedback while sponsorship involves someone directly advocating for you. Mentorship describes the support that mentors provide directly for mentees (eg. guidance, advice or feedback on skills), while sponsorship involves externally facing support (eg. advocacy, visibility, promotion, and connections). The sponsor relationship involves three parties: a sponsor, a protégé and an audience. Sometimes, mentorship, with its foundation of trust, can evolve into a sponsorship.
Both relationships reduce feelings of loneliness, disengagement and burnout. When transparent and formalized, they can also both drive equity and inclusion, like at Unilever or Paraxel. Moreover, while sponsorship is focused specifically on career advancement, mentorship can nurture feelings of empowerment, belonging, and inclusion.
Leaders tend to believe that they’re sponsoring someone when, in fact, they’re providing mentorship. A survey of over 3,000 U.S. professionals found that sponsors themselves don’t really understand the role and how to do it well. Many exhibit a “mini-me syndrome”: 71% select protégés who share their same gender or race. Due to affinity bias, organic sponsorship equates to senior leadership preserving the status quo while non-majority groups receive less (and less influential) sponsorship despite 85% of women & 81% of multicultural professionals needing this type of support.
To drive equity and inclusion, mentorship and sponsorship programs must be transparent and formalized. There must be accountability in place for leaders to be fostering inclusion through protégé selection. Leaders also need skills to identify and mitigate affinity bias. They must also be able to differentiate between mentorship and sponsorship to ensure they are providing both equitably.
The ABCDs of sponsorship:
Courageous conversations are essential to understand each other’s experiences and perspectives.
Learn how to successfully make business case for DEI in your organisation.
Learn how to constructively speak up about organizational or work-related problems and concerns.