Professionals often strive to advance throughout their careers, and there are several ways that they can achieve this goal.
Two of those ways are through mentorship and sponsorship. The differentiation between the two is that a mentor will enhance your skills, provide guidance on a project or task you are undertaking, or elevate your way of thinking. A sponsor will be useful to advocate on your behalf, create opportunities for you, and help promote you within an organization.
Matthew C. Meade, a financial services executive with experience working with Fortune 100 companies, stopped by AfroTech to provide some insights on what to consider when seeking either route to move up the career ladder.
A good mentor is experienced in their field and well versed in handling different scenarios in order to offer good coaching and help you advance within your career path. It could be someone with senior-level experience or a professional who is a level above you.
Meade recommends looking for a mentor who has a career path you aim to achieve and who you already have an active relationship with in your field.
This is not to say that one should only pursue mentorship within one’s field. Don’t be afraid to branch out. According to Meade, mentoring should be viewed similar to building an advisory board for a firm.
“You don’t just want mentors in one specific industry or one specific background,” Meade told AfroTech in an exclusive interview. “For example, I have mentors that are in banking. I have mentors that are doctors. I have mentors that are lawyers as well. So mentors are executives within tech and in startups as well. So, the frame of a mentor doesn’t always have to be someone within your group or your team. It could be just someone that you confide in and ask for advice.”
A mentorship relationship can be formed by making an introduction to someone within your organization and suggesting a time to talk more extensively. The ability to network with professionals could be further enhanced by attending events in different industries.
Additionally, you should not neglect the knowledge you can get from your peers, otherwise known as horizontal networking.
In contrast, a sponsor creates opportunities for you to scale within a company. This could be someone who is looking to promote you at your workplace. In the case of a stretch assignment that is difficult to join, a sponsor could take on the role of advocating for you. This can be very useful for promoting the project to committees.
“Sponsors are the people that are in the room that have your back when there’s no one else speaking about you, and will give you a platform to showcase your talents,” Meade explained. “They will give you really strong feedback, and they’re someone that sees something in you at times before you see it within yourself.”
You are also more likely to progress to a senior-level role or the C-suite if you have more sponsors. Sponsorship is also very important because you may need support across organizations, similar to mentorship.
In order to position yourself for sponsorship, you will have to produce high-quality work. They will sometimes find you as a result. So, focus on your work ethic, portfolio, and building a solid brand and reputation within an organization.
Navigating Seeking Mentors or Sponsors As A Black Professional
Although we have noted what professionals should look toward for a mentor or sponsor, the mere choice still is not always accessible to Black professionals. Business Insider reports, Black women were less likely than their colleagues to have a work sponsor. Forty percent of Black professionals also expressed that mentorship and coaching opportunities would be a solution to more equitable workplace culture, according to a survey released by LinkedIn.
Fortunately, there are resources available to increase opportunities for guidance and to build your networks, such as SEO (Sponsors for Educational Opportunity) and The Executive Leadership Council (ELC). In addition, attending conferences and networking events can increase visibility and help put your name out there.
Remember, lean on your peers in the industry.
“I think often if you have friends across the industry, people of color, you can look to leverage their network as well,” Meade said. “Sometimes, you may have a contact or I may have a contact, and if we talk about what we’re looking for, often those contacts can intertwine. So, raising your hand or letting somebody that you’re close with know what you’re actually looking for can also help bridge that gap.”