It’s who you know not what you know. Never more truer words have been said, especially if you’re looking to grow your career. In recent years, there’s been a big push for women to find mentors to guide and steer their careers toward their goals.
The message is getting through because women have more mentors and mentoring relationships than men. Through mentors, women receive the insights, fresh perspectives as well as the feedback and support they need to grow and develop their career.
Yet, for women, mentoring doesn’t usually lead to promotion. It does for men. That’s because men are 54% more likely to have a sponsor than their female colleagues.
Women need sponsors. Working mothers need them more.
Sponsors are highly placed, influential individuals who believe in us and the value we continue to bring our organizations. Confident in our abilities, they advocate, protect, prepare and push us forward.
At times they can provide mentor-like counsel. More often, however, they are working on our behalf behind closed doors – promoting our ideas, commitment and performance, and pitching us for the next big assignment or promotion.
All of which is much needed as the careers of working moms are too often limited by the insurmountable scrutiny they face at work. Mothers are considered to be less committed and less capable than their childless female peers. And, they’re held to higher performance standards.
With such barriers in place, mothers struggle to get ahead at work.
A result that may explain the widening pay and promotion gaps between men and women that begins at the age of 32. An age when the majority of today’s women are starting their families.
Sponsorship can help close these gaps.
According to some recent statistics, women with sponsors are 27% more likely to ask for a raise and 22% more likely to ask for a stretch assignment, than their unsponsored female peers. Sponsors can advance careers and increase job satisfaction, too.
For companies, sponsoring high performers can unlock their potential and groom them for future leadership positions. A reason why more progressive companies and leaders are actively engaging in sponsoring high potential female talent.
It’s also the catalyst behind the #GoSponsorHer campaign, which is working with organizations and leaders to accelerate sponsorship of rising female talent to open their path to the C-suite.
But, working moms can’t sit around and wait to be plucked up by an available sponsor.
We need to be proactive and intentional in our pursuit of sponsors who will step up so we can step forward. Here’s how you can get started:
Identify a diverse pool of potential sponsors
Take a good look at the leaders in your organization – current mentors, senior leaders in your department, as well as those positioned elsewhere in your company. Who are the ones you admire? Who’s career path do you hope to follow? Who can offer you the support you need to achieve the goals you’ve set for your career?
Sponsorship relationships take time to cultivate. Some will come through for you, but some won’t. So, be sure to select a diverse group of men and women who can actively support your career at your company.
Cultivate a strong relationships
Once you’ve identified your potential sponsors, your next step is to get them to see you. If you don’t regularly interact with them, find ways to do so. Ask them to take a coffee break together or go to lunch or seek their help on a challenge you’re facing at work (see other effective network ideas for busy moms).
A first meeting may not be the right time to ask them to be your sponsor, but you can begin to let them know about your career aspirations. You’ll also want to learn more about them and how you may be able to help them.
Getting to know your potential sponsor is important because like any good relationship, sponsorships are a two-way street. Look for opportunities where you can bring them value. Share an insightful article they’d appreciate, connect them to an expert you know, contribute to an ongoing project or volunteer with an association or charity they’re actively engaged in.
Whatever you choose, be sure to use the opportunity to demonstrate your skills and the value you bring. This will go a long way in building trust in you and your abilities.
Earn your sponsorship
By advocating for you and promoting you, your sponsor will put their reputation on the line for you. And, they can only do so if they have full confidence in you and the professional brand you have created for yourself.
This puts the onus on you to build your reputation in your field and in your company. But, it doesn’t mean you have to take on additional work. Instead, it’s about performing consistently, working in a way that aligns with your values (and those of the company, too), as well as seeking help when hurdles pop up.
It’s also about considering feedback, heeding advice and making a demonstrated effort to improve and grow as a professional. If a sponsor has provided you guidance, report back on how you’ve leveraged their insights. Share your wins with them, but be sure to frame in the context of how their support led to the successful result.
This and more will signal to your sponsor that you are worthy of their investment. In turn, they will become stronger advocates for you.
Sponsors can open doors to those rising up the corporate ladder. For working mothers, the support of senior leaders can make our career path less thorny and change the unfortunate perceptions that often time holds mothers back.
Do you have a sponsor? How have they helped you in your career? Tell us in the comments below.