The terms “mentorship” and “sponsorship” have been thrown around a lot in corporate Canada in recent years. Often, they come up in conversations about women in the workplace. As these words become more commonplace, it’s important that we don’t lose sight of what they truly mean. Mentorship and sponsorship play a critical role in the corporate world, especially for women.
While the two have very distinct definitions, both mentorship and sponsorship help people achieve their goals – most commonly, in the workplace.
Mentorship involves a formal or an informal relationship with an advisor or peer who acts as a role model. Sponsorship is earned on an individual basis, rather than assigned. Senior colleagues advocate on sponsored employees’ behalf, helping guide them through high-profile career changes in an organization.
Men and women at all career levels can benefit from mentorship and sponsorship. But, women seem to derive a higher value from the relationships and tend to participate in them more amid the drive towards gender equality in the workplace. The number of women who reported having a mentor increased to 34 per cent in 2018 from 24 per cent in 2015. The number of women serving as mentors also rose: 26 per cent were mentors in 2018, up from 20 per cent in 2015.
While these numbers are good, we can do a lot more to encourage mentorship and sponsorship in the workplace. Fortunately, up and coming talent − specifically, millennial women − are a catalyst for positive change as they seek greater equality and strive for career advancement. Millennials are much more likely to have a mentor (46 per cent) than employees aged 35+ (27 per cent).
While the next generation will play a key role in driving the agenda forward, there remains an untapped opportunity for men to support women in the area of mentorship and sponsorship in corporate Canada.
Currently, 83 per cent of women mentor other women. If we really want to see the gender gap close, we need to engage more men in the workplace. It can be as simple as providing men with a platform to champion women. We could also be more vocal about encouraging men to sponsor women. Without men’s engagement and participation, the numbers will never be where we need them to be.
It’s encouraging to hear the global conversation continue about gender equality and women’s advancement in the workplace. But, conversation is not enough. We’re not seeing the results we want to see. In some areas, the numbers are actually getting worse – there was a 25 per cent drop last year in the number of women CEOs of Fortune 500 companies. Mentorship and sponsorship drive results. These aren’t just buzzwords. They’re game changers.
Content produced by American Express Canada. The Globe and Mail was not involved in its creation.