Mentors are failing to accelerate women’s careers: But there’s a solution

Dr Natalie Galea

Dr Natalie Galea is the co-founder of Cultivate Sponsorship, an expert in gender equality in male-dominated work sectors and an Australian Olympian.

We know that businesses thrive when diversity is a key and intrinsic part of their DNA.

McKinsey & Co states that ‘$12 trillion could be added to global GDP by 2025 by closing the gender gap’. However, at current rates of progress, it will take 217 years to close the economic gender pay gap.

If we want to close this gap quicker, we need to begin examining our workplace processes, ensuring women are gaining opportunities to progress their careers and break through the glass ceiling.

For a long time, businesses have relied on mentorship, whether organically or formally acquired, as a resource for women to succeed in an organisation.

However, research has shown that mentorship, while adding some value to career paths, actually does not drive any actionable or direct change in women’s career progression.

Mentoring acts as a way of providing a pool of advice, a tool to listen, understand, empathise and share similar experiences with similar people. This alone is not enough for women to break through career barriers in business, and the result is evidently seen in the lack of gender diversity in senior roles, leadership positions and on boards.

However, the good news is that what mentorship lacks, sponsorship delivers.

Sponsorship gives women (and men) access to learning and development while forming strategic alliances within their organisation. It forces a change in systematic gender alliances and provides opportunities for clarity, transparency and advocacy, which would not have otherwise happened.

How can formal sponsorship accelerate gender balance in an organisation?

1. Formal sponsorship is strategic

Entering into a formal sponsorship program doesn’t allow you to choose who you sponsor or who sponsors you.

You are not paired up based on similarities, personalities, or who would make a great work colleague. You are strategically paired up with a sponsor or a sponsee who will allow you to be vulnerable, to be challenged and to grow.

Your pairing is created with your career progression and leadership development at the very core.

2. Formal sponsorship offers transparency

Sponsees are given more than advice; they are opened up to the world of the sponsor. They meet the people their sponsor meets; they see the work and role that their sponsor performs, and they are given in-depth knowledge and understanding into the business at a senior level.

On the flip-side, sponsors gain insights into their sponsee’s work-life and skills, enabling sincere transparency and understanding of each others’ roles, behaviours, attitudes and work within the organisation.

3. Formal sponsorship ensures growth

Sponsorship relationships are deeply entrenched in real, thought-provoking and sometimes challenging, conversation.

A good sponsorship program will have a journey of curated conversations that need to be had in order for growth to occur.

4. Formal sponsorship provides advocacy

Sponsorship is an investment in people. Sponsors act as an advocate for the progression and promotion of their sponsee.

As the sponsor develops a well-rounded and enriched understanding and relationship with their sponsee, they are able to put their sponsee forward for projects, promotions and progression.

While mentors create a space to counsel and advise on one’s career, to see actionable progression in gender equality and women’s career acceleration, we need to look beyond the process of mentoring.

We need to explore the investment that formal sponsorship can have within a business.

This article was first published on LinkedIn and has been republished with permission.

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