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Launch formal mentorship and sponsorship programs

Learn the core difference between mentorship and sponsorship to implement them in your company.

Brief Summary

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.

dei progress

Proposed Actions

Effective formal mentorship:

  • Mentors & mentees matched based on previously assessed skills/development needs; track who is receiving and who is not
  • Well-defined roles & formal goals created
  • Designated minimum time commitments
  • Accountability for both mentor and mentee
  • Connected to business strategy & linked to career outcomes

The ABCDs of sponsorship:

  • Amplifying: A sponsor promotes a protĂ©gĂ©
  • Boosting: A sponsor provides assurance around a protĂ©gé’s ability to deliver upon the prospective opportunities
  • Connecting: A sponsor enhances others’ impressions of a protĂ©gĂ©
  • Defending: A sponsor defends a protĂ©gĂ© & influences others’ opinion.

Valued Guidance

Implementation Plan

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