Skip to main content
newsletter

This is the weekly Careers newsletter.

Radhika Panjwani is a former journalist from Toronto and a blogger.

While a mentor can help you develop skills, a sponsor can help you win a promotion, says Teresa Perez, a data analyst and researcher at PayScale, a U.S. compensation software and data firm.

People in the early stages of their career have long been encouraged to find themselves a mentor to offer advice and guide them, she notes.

“In recent years, however, the conversation regarding career allies has shifted from the benefits of having mentors to the advantages of having sponsors,” Ms. Perez writes. “The key difference between mentors and sponsors is that mentors give advice while sponsors actively seek to provide opportunities.”

There are other distinct differences. Mentors, like career coaches, typically don’t have to be in the same workplace as their mentees. Their role is to support, encourage, advise and help mentees build their professional network, and provide feedback on skills development. Sponsors are influential decision-makers and part of the protégé's reporting chain. Sponsors open doors for protégés, help them land assignments, get promoted, make connections, provide endorsement and receive pay increases.

Ms. Perez’s team surveyed almost 100,000 professionals in the United States and asked them questions about their salary, current positions and whether they had an advocate or sponsor. Fifty-seven per cent of men and 56 per cent of women admitted to having a sponsor at work. Individuals who had a sponsor were paid 11.6 per cent more than those without one; men see a greater benefit, earning 12.3 per cent more, compared with 10.2 per cent for women.

The downside

Nearly three-fourths of respondents of the PayScale survey said their direct manager was their sponsor, while an additional 16.3 per cent said their manager’s manager sponsored them. Only 10.5 per cent said it was someone outside their department.

Marissa D. King, a professor of organizational behaviour at Yale School of Management and author of Social Chemistry: Decoding the Patterns of Human Connection, said her research showed 82 per cent of women and 84 per cent of men had found mentors informally at work. Sponsors, on the other hand, typically seek out protégés with potential and advocate for them.

The Yale and PayScale reports both show it pays to have a white man as a sponsor or mentor.

“Like most social relationships, mentor-protégé relationships usually form along lines of surface-level similarities,” Prof. King writes. “Mentors and protégés look alike. This disadvantages women and people of colour, since post-MBA protégés make about $28,000 more if they are mentored by a white man.”

The downside of cross-gender mentorships is that these can be misconstrued. In the wake of recent waves of sexual harassment charges, the number of men who reported being uncomfortable mentoring or sponsoring women has tripled, notes Prof. King in her report.

A case for in-house programs

Having an in-house mentoring program with a third-party supporting the implementation can help iron out pesky wrinkles. By spelling out the structure, accountability and boundaries [of the mentoring program], organizations can give mentors and mentees the opportunity to focus their conversations on deepening their relationship, said Paulina Cameron, chief executive officer of The Forum, a Canadian charity supporting women entrepreneurs.

Demand for the charity’s offerings – including its mentoring program, where entrepreneurs are paired with experienced business leaders – saw a 345-per-cent increase over the past three years.

There are other benefits to having formal [mentoring] programs. For starters, they can connect employees to mentors and eliminate the awkwardness of having to ask. Companies can also provide materials, resources, and training on how to make the most of mentoring.

“To implement an impactful mentorship program, the key is to value the time and energy that will be put into it,” Ms. Cameron said. “Leadership must encourage the initiative, get involved and lead by example.”

Mentors and sponsors are equally important and can help those seeking leadership roles, she said.

“The best mentorship relationships are mutually rewarding to both the mentor and mentee and are not one-way, but rather both individuals end up learning from … one another,” Ms. Cameron said. “Keeping this in mind helps it feel like a ‘power-with relationship’ as opposed to a ‘power-over relationship.’”

Sponsorship in a remote/hybrid scene

Finding and fostering sponsorships and mentoring in a remote or in hybrid environment will need to consider other factors. For instance, in an office setting, young workers connect to leaders in the hallways, elevators and meeting rooms. They are exposed to various types and styles of leadership. In remote workplaces, exposure is limited to being on the same Zoom call, notes Leagh Turner, co-chief executive officer of Ceridian, a Toronto-based global payroll and HR software company.

“Before the surge in remote work, many companies left mentorship to chance,” Ms. Turner said in a column. “Only 21 per cent of workers ages 25 to 34 can say for sure that they have someone in a position of authority invested in their development. In a remote world, look for that percentage to drop even more unless sponsorship and mentorship are formalized.”

Ms. Turner suggests companies introduce formal mentorship and sponsorship opportunities; offer a mix of virtual and in-person events when appropriate, and ensure company leaders attend and are part of the virtual on-boarding of new employees.

What I’m reading around the web

  • The opposite of quiet quitting is the FatFire Movement, says this article in Fortune. FatFIRE, stands for Fat Financial Independence and Retirement Early. FatFIRErs are people hustling and working hard to reach that early retirement goal.
  • Workers and bosses are rarely on the same page, but according to this CNBC story, those who work for remote and hybrid companies said the top reason they would resign is because of feeling disconnected from the company’s culture and its people. C-Suite executives agree. They admit maintaining employee connection has been a real challenge.
  • A part-remote, part-office work schedule (hybrid) has been touted as the future of work, but many workers say hybrid work is emotionally draining, according to this BBC article. For starters, maintaining two setups is a drain and a lack of consistent routine is exhausting.
  • Correspondence bias is our tendency to blame people’s bad behaviours on their character and disregard situational factors. According to this Psychology Today article, by correcting one sneaky automatic bias, we can treat each other more civilly.

Editor’s note: In a previous version Leagh Turner was misidentified as chief operating officer of Ceridian. In fact, she is co-chief executive officer. In addition, Ceridian is a global payroll and HR software company, not a human resources services provider as stated earlier.

Have feedback for this newsletter? You can send us a note here.