TOP: Chelsea28 (similar HERE, HERE, and HERE) | BLAZER: J. Crew | BOTTOMS: Madewell (low in stock, different pattern HERE, more options HERE) | SHOES: Sam Edelman (cute low heel version HERE)| BAG: BP Brand (similar HERE and HERE) | NECKLACE: Banana Republic | EARRINGS: Lovia c/o | LIPS: bareMinerals in shade Notorious
Once upon a time, our protagonist showed up at her first day of work. She dazzled her boss with her critical thinking and productivity, and started merrily down a career path full of external validation. She felt confident in the value she brought to her company, and was considered for every relevant promotion and raise. She lived happily ever after, rapidly ascending the career ladder of her choice. The End.
I mean, I wish. But that’s not exactly what my career progression has looked like thus far. Oh, you neither? As sad as I am to say that fairy tale isn’t real, the good news is that there are real life ways to ascend, merrily, through your organization.
We all know the value of mentors. They offer advice and encouragement, help shape ambitions and plans, and provide critical coaching through the more challenging assignments and interpersonal dynamics of the workplace. They’re your career cheerleaders, and these relationships can often lead to deep and trusting friendships that last a lifetime. Mentors are important in helping us develop and grow into the next position or promotion.
But there’s something that mentors lack. Something that really makes a difference in creating access to career opportunity. And it’s not something that we are taught to consider. I’m talking about advocacy. Enter: sponsors.
Sponsors are career champions. They’re the ones who reach down from a few rungs up on the ladder and lend you a hand in jumping a level. Or the ones who peer over the edge and show you where the elevator is, fast-tracking you to the top. Usually this means someone senior in your organization who is respected by other leaders and has substantial political capital in the company.
“What does this actually look like?” you might ask. Women with sponsors are more likely to ask for and receive raises and promotions. They report volunteering for and winning higher visibility and stretch assignments at greater rates than their unsponsored colleagues, as well as feeling happier with their pace of advancement in their organizations. There are also big retention benefits, particularly among working mothers. One study found that 85% of mothers who have a sponsor stay employed, versus only 58% without.
So, how to get said sponsor? Some companies have formal sponsorship programs, but for most of us, finding a sponsor comes down to individual effort.
Step 1. The first thing to do is to figure out who fits the bill. Remember, you’re looking for whoever can make the most happen for you. It doesn’t have to be someone you identify with, admire, or even like. Instead, seek someone with seniority, visibility, and power. For their good word to mean anything, they need to have influence over the organization. After identifying the potential options, be strategic in looking for those who have a track record of advocating for others. They probably don’t call it sponsorship, by the way. But look and see, are there a few leaders whose people seem to shoot to the top? Leaders whose people love working for them because of the opportunities they’re afforded? Those are the people you want to align yourself under.
Step 2. Next, impress them. We as humans are innately drawn to people we have commonalities with. This doesn’t just have to mean what we look like. Does your potential sponsor follow a particular schedule in the office? Do they have a well known preference for how presentations are conducted or how information is shared? The best thing you can do is to give them what they’re looking for. If they see that your working styles are similar and can connect over having that in common, they are more likely to extend themselves on behalf of you.
Step 3. Maintain the relationship. Remember, sponsorship is a relationship that benefits both parties. Not only are sponsors giving you access to build the skills and opportunities that you need to be successful; they are having someone talented complete the work that they need done, and complete it well. So, treat the relationship like the partnership it is, and don’t be afraid to ask for touchpoints as you need them. Although, just to be clear, we’re not talking leisurely lunch dates here; quick, efficient, frequent touchpoints are the keys to success.
TOP: Chelsea28 (similar HERE, HERE, and HERE) | BLAZER: J. Crew | BOTTOMS: Madewell (low in stock, different pattern HERE, more options HERE) | SHOES: Sam Edelman (cute low heel version HERE)| BAG: BP Brand (similar HERE and HERE) | NECKLACE: Banana Republic | EARRINGS: Lovia c/o | LIPS: bareMinerals
Crushed the three steps? Great. Now go back and start again with a new potential sponsor. The more sponsors in your life, the better. Often, promotions are made via committee decision, and having multiple people at the table pulling for you is the obvious better answer. And, as you advance in your career, you may simply need new people in different positions to help you over the next wall.
Want to learn more? Check out this great HBR article and this one from Forbes. And my good and brilliant friend, Beth, has an awesome talk on why you should act as a sponsor to others around you. Have your own thoughts to add to the conversation? Please leave me a comment below!