Mentorships have become a key strategy for companies trying to get more women into senior positions.
A mentor is someone more senior than you nurtures your talents, gives you tips on how to succeed, and gives you constructive advice on how to improve your chances of getting a seat at the top table.
But while mentorships are serving a purpose, one of the world’s leading experts on hiring and company talent warned that there is too much focus on mentorship and not enough on sponsorship — someone who is at a decision-making stage at a company that can actively vouch for you for promotion.
“There is a danger of mentorships becoming a mini-me situation,” says Sylvia Ann Hewlett, founder and CEO of the Center for Talent Innovation at the FT Women at the Top event in London.
“This means people who are mentoring, tap people on the shoulder who are like them — went to the same school, look similar, have same interests, move in the same circles. If they are left to their own devices, this is what happens. When we asked 12,000 representatives of companies, including executives and managers, what compels them to give someone a tap on the shoulder, the results showed that this is the case.”
Hewlett’s group is a self-described “task force community” of 86 global companies, which aims to “unlock the innovative potential of its diverse, global talent across the divides of gender, generation.”
She says that while mentoring is a good thing, being “sponsored” by someone in the company could be more effective in helping women achieve higher positions, pay, and promotions.
“In order to become a leader, you need to take risks. But if you do not have someone [who has got your back] if you fail, you are worried to get fired,” said Hewlett.
“When we did that study, it showed women are less likely to take risks at companies than men. But when women had a sponsor, they took just as many risks as men in the group. A mentor is a shoulder to lean on, an ear to listen to you but is not necessarily senior in the company that is able to make decisions in your career.
“A sponsor is a special person, it is not just someone that sees you as a protege, they have the ability to make decisions on your career and be proactive in promoting you to managers within the company — making you visible and highlighting your achievements. They are someone sitting in a boardroom talking about you to top decision makers.”
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