Employee surveys have found that women believe there are far less equal opportunities in corporations for them than their male counterparts—meaning they get passed over for promotions and miss out on working for promising projects. As a result, many companies have established mentoring programs for women to navigate within organizations, network better, establish skills, be prepared for promotions, and feel supported.

Recently, the concept of the mentor has evolved into the concept of sponsor. Whereas mentors offer advice and help grow skills, the sponsors’ role is more to advocate for the individual—make introductions, put promotional opportunities in front of them and recommend that they be nominated for interesting projects. The sponsor is more of a direct line for advancement rather than a guide or teacher. They are an extra boost towards networking and self-promotion to women who are already advanced in their careers with a lot of skills and knowledge. For more information on self-promotion and networking, read this past blog post.

So, how do you know if you need a mentor or sponsor? Here are three questions to ask yourself to find out.

1) Are you interested in learning new skills and gaining knowledge about the business? If you answered yes, then you need a mentor.

2) Are you interested in a promotion or more visibility around a project? If you answered yes, then a sponsor is the right way for you.

3) Are you interested in having a more objective viewpoint on your career? Then, you need a mentor. On the other hand, a sponsor has more of a stake in your success since they are directly trying to help you succeed, so they may be helpful as well.

So, now that you know what you need, here are three ways to find the right person:

1) Start with your immediate manager. Has he or she supported and advocated for you? If so, then you should request to create a more formal structure around how he or she can mentor you, or sponsor your next move in the organization.

2) Get introduced to your manager’s manager. Another possibility if your immediate manager is not the right fit, or he or she doesn’t feel that they can be responsible for the advancement in your organization, is your manager’s manager. He or she can make introductions and will advocate for your visibility within your company.

3) Who inspires you? Finally, another option, is to choose someone who is inspiring to you—a role model. Think about a person, man or woman, that you feel presents themselves well within meetings, or within the company as a whole. Then make the ask.

As the person being mentored or sponsored, the onus is on you to keep the relationship on the right track. If there is not a structured program in your company, set up the times to meet either for coffee, lunch, or a walk. A half hour to an hour every week or two weeks is sufficient. Also, set the agenda for the meetings. You can even email it to them ahead of time. Mentorships and sponsorships offer invaluable opportunities to both parties involved. If your company doesn’t offer them, create one for yourself. It will certainly payoff.

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