Women are over-mentored and under-sponsored. That’s the third mistake organizations are making when it comes to advancing women in leadership. And yes, absolutely, we have seen amazing progress in companies developing some really strong mentorship programs, and even creating women’s resource groups.
I know, I get an opportunity to speak and train with so many of them across so many different companies. And that’s a great start, because mentors act as a sounding board; they offer advice and guidance. But they’re not really the ticket to the top, like a sponsor is.
When I was an early middle manager, I was speaking with one of my peers. We both reported into the same senior leader, and I was sharing with my peer how I felt really confident that my senior leader was my biggest cheerleader; that when I wasn’t in the room, she was advocating for me. She acted as a sponsor; she talked and spoke highly of me.
My peer said to me, “Well Colleen, what happens if our senior leader leaves the company? Then what?” At that point in my career, I had never thought about how I couldn’t just rely on my manager to be my sponsor. I needed to find ways to have other sponsors throughout the organization. Now we did have a mentoring program, but it wasn’t really publicized or supported.
So that’s one of the biggest things that organizations can do, is make sure that everyone is aware of the mentoring opportunities. However, most mentorships for women in leadership tend to be a female leader, mentoring another female leader. And while there are certainly some advantages to that, we know that most women have a majority of only women in their network, and we really need to cross-pollinate and have male allyship.
So being able to structure even mentoring programs where there are also male leaders who could potentially turn into sponsors is really important. I was just working with one of my private executive coaching clients, and we were speaking specifically about strategies, how she could increase her visibility and gain more likely sponsors – because it’s not really something that you ask for in a proactive way, such as what you do with mentoring.
And it’s really important that you do not rely just on mentorship. If you’re interested in learning more about how I work with my private executive clients, please message me, let me know. But we want to make sure that we’re not stuck in this comfort zone of having a mentor. Because again, mentors are not the ticket to the top, like a sponsor can be.
And as organizations, we want to continue to support the infrastructure to allow for that.