Who’s got your back?
The age of technology transformation is fast-paced, exhilarating, ever-evolving and challenging to stay ahead of the game. It’s essential to identify the impact transformation has on ourselves and our teams, supporting them through disruption and innovation.
— Nichol Stark
Throughout my entire 23 years at Suncorp, I was advised by peers and leaders that I needed to build my profile, that I needed to get my own mentor—that I needed to put myself out there. At first, I didn’t really comprehend what this meant –and subsequently reached the Executive Manager level within Digital Technology and stopped. I felt like I didn’t have enough motivation and hope of moving into the Executive General Manager role or more—till I was introduced to the concept of sponsorship and mentorship.
Mentorship….Sponsorship….what’s the difference?
Well, we are all familiar with sponsorship or mentorship, but do we really understand fully what it all entails? Why is it so vital for women who are passionate about growing their careers and skills in technology? Is it all about finding some of the best mentors and surrounding yourself with inspirational books? In truth, both mentorship and sponsorship are two different words but can work interchangeably. Career specialists have emphasised on the value of having both sponsors and mentors throughout your profession as both play a critical role in propelling and pushing you to get ahead.
Mentors are there to help professionals learn more about their skills and roles in the fields they are in from the senior practitioners. They serve as the prime advisors as far as skills are concerned and help mentees shape their plans and ambitions. They inspire them through words to elevate their aspirations and go for bigger goals. As a young woman or lady looking to grow their profession within technology, a mentor is more than qualified to get you through. They are more qualified to serve in this capacity because they have extensive expertise relevant to the professional experience, they share with you. You don’t necessarily need to choose a mentor from your workplace; they can even be out of your town or country.
There are numerous mentoring programmes out there these days for professional women in tech, but not doing enough. Many of them are held up as examples of the company’s commitment to diversify its leadership; however, despite the good intentions and many resources used on such programs, they rarely bring out any significant change.
Sponsors take a direct role in the development of their proteges. In most cases, sponsors work at the same organisation as their proteges. They advocate for their proteges –in helping them earn pay raises, promotions and garner more success in their chosen fields. Sponsors put the skin directly in the game, using their connections and experience. Having a sponsor is a game-changing asset, that is particularly essential for any minority or female professional.
Sponsors work directly with you. It is that person who knows you, your ambitions, your potential and your capabilities –it is that special someone who advocates for your success in the organisational ladder and helps you overcome obstacles on your way to progress—someone who is willing to champion your progress.
Will mentoring and sponsorship programs help?
In the drive to get more women in the senior management positions, mentoring and sponsorship programs have proliferated across most organisations, but have they really brought any significant change in the current statistics?
For instance, according to Workplace Gender Equality Agency, in Australia, only 33% of the senior management positions are held by women and progress towards improving these figures have been slow compared to other developed countries across the globe. Only 15.4% of CEO roles are owned by women.
Mentors are necessary but not self-sufficient
With the advancement of technology in today’ workforce, women have to work extra hard to get any proper recognition in their skills. With a mentor, you can go far, but with a sponsor, you can go even further.
Economist, founder and CEO of the Centre for Talent Innovation Sylvia Ann Hewlett explains: “Mentors can build your self-esteem and provide a sounding board – but they’re not your ticket to the top.”
The problem with mentorship isn’t the intentions behind them. There is always something meaningful and generous about a more experienced and professional individual advising an ambitious amateur. Consequently, most of us can attest to how it felt to have someone to talk to frankly whether it is a business discussion, personal relationships or politics.
Connections are the key
In technology transformation the critical ingredient to moving up the ladder is connecting with experienced people in technology who can advise and inspire you to grow in the same skill as they have—that person is your sponsor. Unlike a mentor, a sponsor will advise you on your career based on your strengths and weaknesses and actively help advance it. They also have connections, social capital and credibility to advocate for you. According to an exclusive report by the Harvard Business review 2011, sponsors not only advise their proteges but also prepare, protect and push them.
A famous example is Sheryl Sandberg, an American technology executive and the chief operating officer (COO) of Facebook. Would she have gotten where she is without the hand and advocacy of Larry Summers, who held her from Harvard to become his research assistant at World Bank and later appointed her as his chief of staff at the US treasury? Or without the help and support of Eric Schmidt who recruited her and gave her the critical assignments that helped her build a personal brand at Google?
The rule of the thumb is most women in technology, and career needs some mentorship as well as sponsorship in order to grow. Susan Price, a director at PwC in Sydney, is one beneficiary of both sponsorship and mentorship. She explains the focus of mentoring as “how to help the mentee ‘get fixed’ or get through a difficult situation or reflect on ways to do things differently”.
She says that sponsorship is more of “using networks to open doors to opportunities that you can’t open yourself”.
“Mentoring talks in the room to you about you. Sponsorship talks about you when you’re not there,” says Price. “That’s why it is particularly effective for women, for whom doors are more difficult to open.”
It’s getting people to the start line when previously they wouldn’t even have been in the race
– SUSAN PRICE
One may argue that Price was lucky to be at the right place at the right time to meet the right person who saw her potential. So, what are these three essential tips in getting the right sponsor to influence your career in technology as a woman?
Diversify: Don’t make a mistake of relying on one source
The trick with finding the right sponsor or mentor is that we tend to focus on sponsors who share aspects of our identity, skillsets and personality. We feel more secure around people who have had the same struggles we are in and shares the same ambitions, and in most cases, a woman is more likely to choose a fellow woman for a sponsor than a man. The truth is that women across the globe occupy the least senior positions making the men the most potent economy runners.
The decline of females not entering the tech space is not an ability issue – it is a confidence issue, it is a lack of understanding of what is available, it is a lack of visible role models for women to aspire to. We can change this by building and supporting our community.
— Nichol Stark
For a woman to stand out, there must be heavy hands holding her to her destination, not one but more. Look for people who challenge you to be a better person, people who believe in your potential and walk with them. Relying on one source of advice and sponsorship will only mean slow or no progress. Women need to cultivate those relationships, not just with their fellow women but also male counterparts.
Commit: You can never win if you’re not a participant
Moving from one position up to another in an organisation involves more than just the ability to turn in deliverables or work ethics. Performance is key—very essential but you have to go way beyond to make yourself respected and known in order to receive a more prominent role. In other words, you must prove to the whole organisation of your capabilities.
It is important to note that you should not tamper with your family time but develop an “engagement strategy” based around your monthly networking goals. Develop a strategy that will balance your time and still give you your “you time”. Be strategic and specific. Participate in meetings and social activities, join committees that are likely to involve your potential sponsors and lastly work with goals.
Ask: Silence is not a solution
Making yourself known at the workplace requires courage, and for your performance to be reviewed and pay rise to be awarded, you must be known. You can start by speaking in meetings asking questions when necessary and working hard behind the motivation of your sponsor. If you don’t have one, you are likely to get one as soon as they start discovering your potential.
Speak out about your professional goals or ambitions to your mentors and sponsors; they are the best people to help you.
Do you have a sponsor? Ask today!