It is widely accepted that everyone needs guidance and support in order to succeed in their professional career. In fact when it comes to women succeeding in the tech industry, having a mentor and professional support is considered critical.
However there is another support structure that women should seek to help themselves grow and develop in the industry, and that is the role of a sponsor. Often people use the words “sponsor” and “mentor”interchangeably. Whilst these roles might be similar in what they aim to achieve, they are very different in how they go about supporting you.
Here are a few key differences between a mentor and a sponsor that can help you decide whether what you need right now in your development is a mentor or a sponsor (or perhaps both).
The mentor is primarily concerned about helping you develop and move towards your goals by acquiring skills, taking advantage of opportunities, developing your confidence and helping you to apply what you’ve learned and know in challenging situations. The sponsor is concerned about helping you develop your career by advocating on your behalf in those forums and boardroom meetings when you are not present. They raise your name and highlight your strengths and talents when the opportunity arises for a promotion or for someone to take on a new challenging project. Many times a mentor might be supportive to you, but will not “sell”your name in key decision making forums where you might be considered for a new opportunity or challenge.
In summary, a mentor is focused on speaking to you and spending time with you whereas a sponsor is focused on speaking for you (especially when you are not there to represent yourself). A mentor will help you skill up, while a sponsor will help you move up. And finally a mentor will give you perspective, whereas a sponsor will give you opportunities. Take some time to reflect whether you have a mentor or a sponsor, and how the support that they are providing is aligned to what you wish to achieve.