There is plenty of advice out there about the importance of getting a mentor to help us along our career journey, but Cecilia Harvey, tech founder and champion of diversity in technology, believes that women should actually be focusing more on finding a sponsor. “Without a sponsor,” says Harvey, “it can be a tough career climb and, quite frankly, you can be killing yourself and not actually get anywhere while you watch someone more strategic about their relationships and alliances get promoted.”

Mentorship vs. Sponsorship: What’s the Difference?

“A mentor”, explains Harvey, “is someone who can give you impartial advice and the benefit of their own experience. They may be in your organisation but could be someone in the same industry or even someone who has been through similar experiences and is a step or more ahead. A sponsor is someone who actually has some impact on your career, who can promote you, or at least put forward a case for promoting you. They can influence others within your organisation and industry to take notice of you and take you seriously, In short, it’s someone who believes in you and is a decision maker. They are a key stakeholder in your career progression.” So, how do you find a sponsor?

1. Identify: Know Your Key Stakeholders

“Your first step, says Harvey, “is to understand who are the key stakeholders within your organisation. They will the decision makers on your career promotion and have significant influence and credibility in your company.

“I wouldn’t advise choosing your immediate boss.” Harvey advises. “Another senior individual, perhaps your boss’ peer or someone more senior than your boss. Also women should be careful to avoid only looking at female colleagues as possible sponsors. Often there are more men than women in senior roles. “If you’re only considering women you are going to be reducing your pool of potential sponsors.” 

2. Engage: Develop Relationships

Concentrate on developing strong professional relationships with key stakeholders. Have a straightforward conversation with them to find out how you can best add value. Don’t be afraid to put your goals out there and come out and say “what do I need to do to get promoted/head up that new project?”

So what’s in it for the sponsor? “If they promote someone good, they look good, it is a mutually beneficial arrangement. Senior management who are seen to be promoting the right talent are seen as good decision makers and talent spotters.”

Have periodic catch ups with your sponsor to give him or her an update on what you have been doing and receive feedback on how best to ensure you are adding value and demonstrating impact.

3. Impact: Demonstrate Value

Showing impact is not about performing your day to day role well, this is expected of you. Impact is about going above and beyond. Your sponsor can help advise about the key activities and special projects you can get involved in that will give you great visibility and add value. Volunteer for these special projects and be sure to keep your sponsor informed about the impactful work you are doing on these projects.

Sponsors help you advance in your career. If you think of your career as a business, sponsors are the investors that help you to expand your business. Identify the right sponsors, engage them and demonstrate impact that ensures they get a return on their investment in you.