Tag Archives: Networking

Sponsors: Your Career Game Changer

Women still struggle to get ahead.  That’s evident in the results of the recent Women in the Workplace Study* by LeanIn.Org and McKinsey & Company.  The corporate playing field for women remains uneven.  The study* found that women’s experiences at work differ.  And, women question the fairness in opportunities in the workplace.

  • Only 44% of women think the best opportunities go to the most deserving employees
  • Only 54% of women think they have the same opportunity for growth as their peers
  • One-third of women think their gender will make it harder to get a raise, promotion, or chance to get ahead.

Will you sit back and wait for Human Resources to bring equity to the workplace?  Or, will you leverage the potential relationships around you to change the game for your career?

Sponsors: A Game Changer

Women are missing critical relationships that are needed to change the course of their careers. Women of color have an even greater challenge.  The leadership pipeline is dominated by males. And, women’s networks are not as fully developed among influencers in the organization.

Therefore, women need an advocate, known as a sponsor, who is in the inner circle of the people making and influencing talent decisions. A sponsor may speak up about you when potential job openings and talent discussions arise. However, if these influencers don’t know who you are, your track record, or what you’re capable of, then they can’t support you. 

Whether or not you have a sponsor depends a lot on what you do. So, how do you get a sponsor and how do you keep one?

Getting a Sponsor: Two Approaches

From leaders I’ve interviewed, there are two schools of thought on how to get a sponsor: earning a sponsor or requesting a sponsor.  Let’s see how these approaches work.

Earning a Sponsor

Some strongly stated you don’t ask someone to be a sponsor. Sponsors are earned. A sponsorship develops from interactions with you and consistent exposure to you that build trust in your ability and potential. Sponsorship grows from the human psychological response that builds as someone gets to know you, becoming comfortable and familiar with who you are and what you represent—your brand promise.  Sometimes, you may not even realize you have a sponsor. A sponsor can be aware of you without having a direct connection with you personally.

Requesting a Sponsor

Other leaders believe you should advocate for yourself and ask a specific leader to be a sponsor. You don’t just wait on the sideline to be put into the game. Let the coach know you’re ready and that you want in. If you use this approach, articulate where you’d like to go in your career, the skills you hold, the skills you’re building, and the track record of execution you bring to the table. However, only ask a leader who is familiar and comfortable with you. You don’t want to put someone in an uncomfortable position when they have doubts or questions about you. This issue is extremely delicate, so proceed with caution.

Begin Here: Build a Valued Reputation

Realize that the more people know about you, the more comfortable they will feel recommending you. Sponsors were instrumental in my career at Humana and GE.  However, I found that I had to do my part to build a reputation that leaders were willing to invest in and to market myself. You must do the same.

When sponsors recommend you, their necks are on the line. People who trust them trust their recommendations. You become a reflection on them. You owe it to them to do your very best. 

Once you’ve built a reputation others are willing to advocate for, determine which approach to getting a sponsor will work best for you. Consider your company’s culture, the type of relationship, how well the person knows you, and how you need his/her support.  Be thoughtful and purposeful through this process.

The choice is yours.  You can settle, or take steps to build the critical relationships that will change the game for your career.

* LeanIn.Org and McKinsey & Company, 2016 Women in the Workplace Report

To find out more about sponsors and how to get them download this excerpt from Chapter 7 of my FuelForward® book.  Download here and accelerate your career moves up the corporate hierarchy.

3 Mistakes that Make Mentoring a Waste of Time

Women are not only missing critical relationships such as allies, mentors, and sponsors in their careers. You also are not managing those relationships so that you get the most benefit from them.

A mentor is one of the most important strategic assets in your career advancement toolkit. Yet, you don’t treat your mentoring relationships that way.  Mentors can help you understand the types of skills and experiences you’ll need in order to progress in your career, and can help you grow in those areas.  They also can help you understand how things really work in the office and help you avoid landmines in your career. 

I hear women speak about how “a mentor didn’t work out” or “the mentoring meetings were a waste of time.” Be aware of these 3 common mistakes women often make, and take these steps to avoid them:

Mistake #1: Women don’t manage the mentoring relationship and fail to get the outcomes you’re looking to achieve. 

Most women enter a mentoring relationship expecting the mentor to drive the agenda and progress. This often results in disappointment and sometimes strained relationships because the process is floundering along.

You are accountable for your mentoring relationships and outcomes. 

A good mentoring experience doesn’t just happen without planning and care throughout the process.  There are four stages of a mentoring relationship that will guide your progress:







Each stage has its own set of objectives and tasks.  You must take the responsibility to consistently manage through each of the four stages. 

For more details on the success factors and implementation for each stage of the mentoring process, check out the complete FuelForward Mentoring Guide

Mistake #2: Women Select the Wrong Mentor

Selecting the wrong mentor can be a waste of everybody’s time, as well as detrimental to your self-confidence and career progression. 

When I worked for Humana in the early stages of my career, I was fortunate enough to be part of the Management Intern Program.  Though that program came with a formal mentoring relationship, being matched with the right mentor was just as important as selecting my own mentors in other stages of my career. I learned that being thoughtful about and carefully outlining my needs was one of the most important first steps to a successful mentoring relationship.

Before selecting a mentor, know what your development areas are and what skills you need to build for your career path. Seek a mentor who is knowledgeable about the skills you need to enhance or roles you’re considering on your career path. Find someone who has common personal or professional interests and aligns with your expertise.

Connect with the right mentor, someone you can benefit from. Don’t only select someone who’s deemed “important” as your mentor. This will backfire on you.

Mistake #3: Women allow the mentoring relationship to lose momentum

Trying to juggle all the responsibilities of work and home often take priority for women.  Actions that most benefit you and your career get pushed to the bottom of the to-do list. Think about the times you’ve canceled a scheduled meeting with your mentor. Or, if your mentor is busy, weeks pass before you get the session back on your calendars.

You lose momentum in your mentoring progress when you minimize its importance. If it doesn’t seem important to you, it will be less important to your mentor, and harder to keep the sessions going.

Set aside time to invest in your career. You are worth it!  And, you add greater value to your organization when you are growing and advancing.

Step Up to Own It

Women will continue to be left behind until you step up to take more ownership in gaining access to and benefiting from important relationships and opportunities,  Take a deep breath, and make it a priority to take the first steps of learning more about these relationships and engaging with a mentor who can be instrumental in helping you Fuel Your Career Forward.

Download our free guide Getting the most from your mentor and take your first steps to Fuel Your Career Forward.