In her new book, “Inclusion on Purpose: An Intersectional Approach to Creating a Culture of Belonging at Work,” diversity and leadership expert Ruchika Tulshyan writes about the difference between mentors and sponsors and how the latter can help close discrimination gaps.
The classic mentorship model of a seasoned professional providing feedback to a younger colleague can lead to career growth and even employee retention—mentors are great to bounce ideas off, receive career advice and build connections. However, there isn’t an expectation for the relationship to advance much more than that. That’s where sponsors come in.
In her book, Tulshyan writes, “A career sponsor is someone who uses their social capital to advance someone else’s career. They will leverage their influence to open the doors for their protégé by recommending them for glamour work opportunities.” Sponsors are a level up from mentorship; they are personally invested in the professional growth of the protégé.
It is important to note the difference between mentors and sponsors, because, as Tulshyan writes, white men are the most likely group to have a sponsor that helps them get ahead in their careers, leaving behind women, both white and of color. Part of the reason for this gap is that executive leaders—who are overwhelmingly white men—tend to select protégés that look like them which creates a perpetual cycle.
Although sponsorship requires more intentional, public-facing and confrontational labor than mentorship, it is necessary to help uplift women and women of color to close wage gaps and decrease overall bias and discrimination. Harvard Business Review recommends fostering a culture of diverse sponsorship by examining barriers standing in the way of sponsorship, training leadership on how to sponsor cross-culturally, rewarding sponsoring and auditing the programs developed.
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