Written by Guest Blogger, Suzanne Brown.
As a working mom, you’re likely juggling all the things. What are you doing to keep moving your career forward? It’s not only about doing great work. You must advocate for yourself and, let’s be honest, it’s helpful to have someone senior in your corner. I’m not only talking about mentors. A combination of mentors and sponsors is important.
What’s the Difference Between Mentors & Sponsors?
In the simplest terms, mentors provide guidance on your career decisions and sponsors are more action-oriented when it comes to creating opportunities. Bounce ideas off of mentors and let sponsors open doors for you. In my own career and in the stories I heard in the more than 110 interviews I did for my book, I saw a pattern of a combination of mentors and sponsors advancing moms’ careers.
Mompreneurs and Mentors & Sponsors
Entrepreneurship is a balance between getting work done and building a pipeline of new business. Then there is the long-term business building. No question about it, growing your business isn’t only about doing great work. You need others to share that enthusiasm about your work with their colleagues and friends. Have mentors to help you with business decisions and sponsors to introduce you to potential new clients, team members, and even help you with finding funding.
Consider mentors like your own personal board of directors. You want senior people, at least at your manager’s level or a few levels up, so they can understand what you’re going through and give realistic and implementable advice. You want them to still remember how things were when they had a role similar to yours or at least at about the same level. They can be men or women. It’s helpful to have a working mom who can relate to your current season of motherhood as one of your mentors.
5 Tips to Help You with Relationships with Mentors
Take your time to build these relationships. Start talking to potential mentors well before you want to engage them and ask for advice. Look at your current employer or previous employer if you’re an entrepreneur. Maybe it’s a previous manager or a lead on a project you recently worked on. Talk to presenters from conferences or experts who write articles.
Be strategic. Set goals. Figure out your needs and develop criteria for the right fit. Consider personality, style, and approach to career. You don’t have to mimic these, but they need to mesh with your approach.
Establish communication approach or style from the beginning. Informal or formal? How often will you meet? Potentially schedule a few dates. Where or how will you meet? If it’s a long-distance situation, what tool will you use to meet online?
Get the most out of each interaction.
Be respectful of his or her time and of your own. Prepare for your conversations. Know the points you want to cover and send an agenda beforehand if it’s more formal. Be engaged during your interaction and use active listening skills.
Follow up and say thank you. Follow up after the interactions and say thank you to your mentor for his or her time, insights, advice, etc. A simple email or even a handwritten note is great. If you implemented his or her advice, share about the results.
Unlike a mentor, sponsors will promote your accomplishments and skills, help you make conn ections with more senior leaders inside and outside of the company, and help you get more exposure.
Although I didn’t realize it at the time, I often had a sponsor at the large marketing agencies where I worked throughout my career. These senior leaders saw something in me and were willing to help position my skills to new potential managers or actively recommend me for new opportunities. I considered them mentors, but now I know they were actually more like sponsors.
4 Tips on Finding Sponsors
When it comes to sponsors, the challenge can be finding them in your network.
Look at your current network. Maybe it’s time a mentor became a sponsor? Perhaps a previous manager or manager’s manager?
They showed an interest in your career previously. Consider conversations you might have had with senior leaders about your career path. Those are the people who could be great sponsors.
Consider previous projects. If you’ve worked on a high-profile project in the past few years, consider reaching out to someone senior who seemed impressed with your work. He or she has already seen you in action and understands what you’re capable of.
Find a sponsor whose legacy you can support. According to Sylvia Ann Hewitt’s Harvard Business Review article, sponsors can be looking for someone to help support their legacy with the company or industry. If you can fit into their legacy and you’re interested in their support, it might be the perfect fit.
What Can You Do for Your Mentor & Sponsor?
Both of these types of relationships should be a two-way street. How can you help your mentor or sponsor? Sure, they want to mentor or sponsor someone, but there is more to it. Hewitt suggests that you offer to share your knowledge or skills as it relates to projects he or she is working on. When in doubt, ask what he or she needs and how you can help. Share relevant articles that your read and explain why you’re sending them. Introduce him or her to the right resources, if it’s not you. Be generous with your time and knowledge and share what you find. Already have a relationship with a mentor or sponsor? How did you find him or her? How do you keep that relationship going? What advice would you give other working moms looking to find mentor and sponsors?
Suzanne Brown is a strategic marketing and business consultant, TEDx speaker, and work-life balance and professional part-time working mom expert and advocate. She is the author of a recently published book, Mompowerment: Insights from Successful Professional Part-time Working Moms Who Balance Career and Family. Her book, available on Amazon, is filled with her own experience and research combined with stories, insights, and advice from more than 110 interviews with professional part-time working moms. She empowers moms to think differently about their career approach and provides guidance on engaging in their career and being the moms they want to be. You can read more about mentors and sponsors and other topics for busy, working moms on her weekly blog: www.mompowerment.com/blog. Suzanne, her husband, and their two active young boys live in Austin, TX.