Having a sponsor can significantly improve your chances of achieving a promotion, earning more responsibility and getting a pay-raise. While mentors are important for offering advice and guidance, sponsors are in a position of power to take action on your behalf and give you the visibility you need to ensure your professional development.
Finding the right sponsor is critical and can involve looking beyond the most obvious role model.
“A lot of women say their boss is their sponsor but ideally you should look for a sponsor who is at least two levels above you in the company,” said Bonnie Marcus, executive coach, global speaker and author of The Politics of Promotion: How High Achieving Women Get Ahead and Stay Ahead. “Look for someone who has power and influence, who is well respected and has visibility to the work that you are doing.
“It’s important to be strategic when you build your network,” she added. “Seek out people who may be potential sponsors and then find ways to be visible to them.” Marcus suggests volunteering on a project or initiative with potential sponsors so you can demonstrate your abilities and the value you bring.
If your pool for potential sponsors consists mainly of males, you may need to be sensitive to the politics of potential male/female relationships in business.
“The real challenge around sponsorship of women today follows the #MeToo movement. Men have always been more likely to sponsor other men and that has been heightened post-#MeToo,” said Marcus. “It takes a lot more strategy and patience to build relationships over time between women and men in business.”
Once you have established a sponsor, it is important to sit down with that person to outline the expectations of the relationship.
“Consider what you can do for your sponsor as well as what the sponsor can do for you. It really should be mutually beneficial for both parties,” said Marcus. For example, she suggests that you might be able to help with your sponsor’s social media, or you may be able to provide feedback on meetings that the sponsor is unable to attend. Showing that you have a shared vision for your business is also critical.
From the perspective of an established leader looking to sponsor a young woman in your business, Marcus suggests choosing someone ambitious with a solid track-record of performance.
“When you are a sponsor, you are taking a risk by publicly declaring that this person is worthy of your sponsorship so you need to ensure they are trustworthy and accountable, and willing to do the work,” said Marcus.