You might have opened this post expecting a persuasive piece about seeking a sugar daddy. Sorry, girl. I’m not knocking any of the kept men and women out there. Today’s post is not about that kind of sponsor, though. Was that click bait? Oh, well! Now that I have your attention 🙂 I attend lots of events about fostering diversity & inclusion in the workplace as part of my day job. Recently, at one such event, the facilitator said something like “Sponsors can help open doors you didn’t even know were closed.” That stuck with me and I don’t see much about the concept of sponsorship (in this context) popping up on my social timelines. So let’s talk about it, ladies.

I’ve written about the power of mentoring before. And we often hear that networking is so important. But securing a sponsor doesn’t seem to be a hot topic of conversation among my peers. And I think that’s because it hasn’t been made clear exactly what a sponsor is in the business sense. A sponsor is essentially somebody who supports you. They want you to win. More specifically, a sponsor is someone with some level of advantage–be it stronger influence, greater access or organizational clout–who’s willing to use it to your benefit. They are in a position to help you win.

Maybe you’re thinking “But Jazzmine, I have a mentor!” And that’s fabulous. I 100% believe in mentorship and have been on both sides of beneficial mentoring relationships in both my career and personal life. A mentor and a sponsor aren’t the same, though. Here’s the difference between a mentor and a sponsor:

  • A mentor speaks to you in order to help you develop and learn from their experiences.
  • A sponsor speaks for you to people in positions to help you. They advocate for you in rooms you don’t yet have access to.
A mentor speaks to you to help you develop and learn from their experiences. A sponsor speaks about you to people in positions to help you. They advocate for you in rooms you don't yet have access to.Click To Tweet

The other difference between a mentor and a sponsor is that you always know when you have a mentor. You might not formally regard the relationship as one of mentorship but you are at least aware that the relationship exists. A sponsor, however, can be someone who is rooting for you (and working on your behalf) without you even knowing it. Your mentor can inspire you to go after a developmental role that will elevate your career. Your sponsor can clear the path to resources that will help you win in that role. And they don’t necessarily have to be different people. I’ve had mentors who where also sponsors. Nobody in this world is truly self made. Most people in high places didn’t get there just because they worked hard. They likely had guides and people willing to exert influence on their behalf.

Because a sponsor is typically higher up, more experienced, etc., they can flex harder than you with much more ease. Here’s an example: You’re wracking your brain considering every possible angle to approach someone to speak at an event you’re facilitating meanwhile someone in the sponsor role has the relationship to call up that person and casually ask for the favor. Having an effective sponsor on your team can help you level up for real.

So now that you know why you need a sponsor, you might be wondering how to get one. That could be a full on post by itself but here are a few quick tips:

  1. Determine your professional value proposition i.e. what you bring to the table.
  2. Incorporate it into networking conversations.
  3. The second tip means you have to actually network. You can’t meet the right people if you don’t meet any people. And I say this as a staunch introvert.
  4. Check in with your network regularly. Let them know what you’re working on and seek to learn about their work.

I hope this helps. If you want more on this topic, just let me know in the comments below or shoot me an email. Thanks for reading!

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