Savvy workers are seeking sponsors to place them at the head of the queue for special projects, leadership roles or even to fast-track their next promotion.
If 2023 was the year you thought your career would take off, but your feet are still firmly in the same place – don’t get mad, get a sponsor.
While it can be both frustrating and disheartening to be skipped over or ignored in the workplace, it is rarely intentional. Management may be unaware of your desire to progress in your career, or you may have been pigeonholed by a perceived strength or weakness in your abilities.
Rather than sitting and hoping that your boss will finally realise you are ready for your next challenge – make 2024 the year when the decision-makers in your company know exactly how valuable you are to the organisation.
Why a sponsor is more effective than a mentor
You’re probably quite familiar with the idea of having a mentor in the office, in fact, you may have had one, or even been one yourself for junior team members. So what’s the difference between a mentor and a sponsor?
A mentor provides insights and feedback based on their own experiences to help you broaden your skillset. They are important for building confidence and can provide you with a safe space to soundboard ideas, before sharing them with your team or direct manager.
A sponsor’s role is to act as an advocate for you. By knowing your aspirations and skills, they can make sure your name is in the mix when projects and promotions are being discussed.
Ideally, your sponsor, or sponsors (there are no rules around how many) will have the ability to influence your current role, and actively open doors for your next, through their own position.
Who should get a sponsor?
While most workers will experience the disappointment of a missed moment to advance their career, data shows women are particularly affected by a lack of opportunity in the workplace.
Women Rising’s ‘The Voice of Women at Work 2023 Report’ shows that 67 percent of Australian women believe that their careers are not progressing as quickly as they would like. Furthermore 40 percent state there is nowhere to move up within their organisation.
Career development is key for employers to retain women, with almost three-quarters (74 percent) saying they would leave their organisation if their current employer did not invest in them.
Additionally, women are also challenged in their careers by a lack of clarity on their goals and vision. For 43 percent, it comes down to a lack of mentors and sponsors.
Any worker can, and should, find a sponsor to advocate for their personal progression, but it is especially important for women to ensure their skills, talent, and worth are valued by their peers and leaders.
Finding your first sponsor
You can’t just ask someone to be your sponsor, it takes conversation and effort.
Start small by identifying an individual in your organisation that is well respected and has a track record of developing and promoting talent.
Be proactive in building a relationship with this person and use your catch-ups to learn more about their personal career journey and aspirations. Don’t be afraid to ask questions about how they got where they are, and the experiences that were most helpful to them.
You can then share your own objectives, but remember you are looking to create a two-way relationship. Offer your help to them where you can and show genuine interest in the advice they share with you.
Building your sponsor partnership
Once a relationship has been established, keep them informed about your progress, accomplishments, and interests, so they can advocate on your behalf and put you forward for opportunities suited to your goals.
Continue to foster the relationship and be transparent about your career goals and aspirations. However, it is important to remember you are not outsourcing your career development to your sponsor.
You are still accountable for anything that does or does not happen.
A sponsor has their own reputation to consider too, so give them plenty of reasons to advocate for you and make the most of every opportunity you are given.
Relationships are one of the most important factors in our careers. Once you have one sponsor, start building a network of people who support you, and who you advocate for in return.
And, when you achieve your goals, remember to pay these moments forward.
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Megan Dalla Camina is the CEO and Founder of Women Rising.