Mentors, take note. You might not be doing your job.
A 2008 Catalyst survey of 4000 high-potential men and women who graduated from top MBA programs revealed that women were paid nearly $5000 less in their first post-MBA job, had lower-level positions, and reported significantly less career satisfaction. (For more findings, see the HBR article “Women in Management: Delusions of Progress”)
While more of the women than men had mentors, a 2010 follow-up survey showed that 15% more of the men had received promotions in the intervening two years. I’m a huge believer in mentoring as an essential element in career advancement and have been mentoring women as part of formal programs for the last decade. But this research makes me wonder whether mentoring really works.
The HBR article entitled “Why Men Still Get More Promotions Than Women” suggests that mentoring isn’t enough. Career advancement is more likely to come from active sponsorship than more passive mentoring. Mentors offer ‘psychosocial’ support for personal and professional development, plus career help that includes advice and coaching. Sponsors, on the other hand, openly campaign for career advancement, often putting their own reputation on the line. People may enjoy mentoring more but they are more likely to get ahead through sponsorship.
On the surface, it’s not obvious that one person can be both a good mentor and a good sponsor. The best mentors are often observant, selfless and introspective; traits that are not always associated with top management. Maybe companies need to create both mentoring and sponsorship programs to address the differing needs. Otherwise, an employee expecting one kind of advice might end up with something else.
Mentor or sponsor? In retrospect, I’ve done some of each in my career although I now realize I’ve been much more heavily weighted to mentoring.
I’m interested in your opinion. Do you see a difference in the two roles? Which one are you?