Do you need a mentor or a sponsor? (Answer: you need both)


Baroness Mary Goudie explains the difference between the two and why becoming a mentor, or being mentored, could really boost your career

Mentoring is vital from the beginning to the end of a person's career. It can start with finding a mentor whilst in education and continue all the way to the boardroom where a mentor can advise on the right role for the individual and provide vital support.

Statistics show that people who are mentored do better in their career. This is particularly important for women, for whom a mentor can provide the encouragement and support to empower them at the beginning or help them come back to work following maternity leave.

Everyone in the workplace should look to mentor someone, male or female, however too often women see mentoring negatively and view junior female colleagues as threats to their own success. As a result they often decline advances to become mentors. This needs to be stamped out and women need to be educated on the value they can gain, both mentoring and being mentored.

The relationship between mentor and mentee needs to be managed appropriately. Mutual understanding is crucial and boundaries need to be established early on. A mentor's role is not to get their mentee their next job, it is about giving advice and listening to concerns. A mentee cannot expect their mentor to do everything for them; it is their responsibility to invest time in themselves. Confidentiality is imperative as this provides the basis for a successful relationship.

One of the biggest benefits of mentoring is that it helps people learn from their mistakes. A mentor can help their mentee to address and be more honest about where they might have gone wrong. Mentors can also help to identify skills which might be useful in a new role, and support mentees to learn and hone them.

Many programmes try to put mentors and mentees together without any real personal connection first. This rarely works, mentoring has to be a natural relationship.

People often say they don't have time to be a mentor, but often they are already coaching several people without realising it. Mentoring someone doesn't need to be an elaborate exercise, instead it should become a way of life, which is why a natural connection is so important. The relationship needs to be comfortable, but not demanding.

Sponsorship is often talked about much less than mentoring, but it is equally important. A sponsor is someone who will put you forward for new positions and be your advocate when you are pursuing new opportunities.

It's important to find a sponsor within the organisation you are working or volunteering with. You might not realise that person is your sponsor until late into your relationship and they could come in the form of a line manager or other senior management figure who is able to speak on your behalf. They will believe in your abilities and understand your career aspirations.

You may need to ask someone to be your sponsor, but it should be someone you know well and who would be willing to write you a recommendation, which requires them to have a clear understanding of who you are and your professional qualities.

Due to the poor economic times that we live in, both mentors and sponsors are becoming increasingly important. Competition for jobs is tough and women should look to develop mentor and sponsor relationships that will equip them to perform as well as they can in their career.

 Baroness Mary Goudie is a senior member of the House of Lords and founding member of the 30% Club steering committee

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