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Corporate Mentor, Career Sponsor: Distinctions Matter

An idiom and a corporate mentor are just a distinction away

When one of my Anglo friends uses an American idiom such as, “You can’t make a silk purse out of a sow’s ear,” she asks me if I’m familiar with its meaning. If I say no, she usually says, “Wow, I can’t believe you’ve never heard it. It’s a very common saying in English,” and she goes on to explain what it means. I usually reply: “How common can it be if I’ve never heard it and I’ve been in this country for twenty five years!” Sometimes, I then share the Spanish equivalent, which in this case would be: “La mona aunque se vista de seda, mona queda.”

Inevitably, a few days later I start hearing and reading that expression everywhere. How could this be? Did it just become popular? No. What happened is that before my friend made the distinction for me, that phrase was just a string of words that I didn’t register as a unit.

Want to promote Latinos up the ladder? Share distinctions between corporate mentors, sponsors, advisors and advocates

Want to promote Latinos up the ladder? Share distinctions between corporate mentors, career sponsors, advisors and advocates

This is important because the lack of distinctions in any area renders us unable to act in that area. In my example, when I don’t understand a particular saying, I miss a reference that almost everyone else gets.  In more important situations, not understanding a specific distinction can keep you from advancing in your career.

Key Distinctions: Corporate mentor, sponsor, advocate, and advisor. Learn how to leverage your career growth by learning what these are and how they can help you. By Mariela Dabbah

Key distinctions that impact career growth:  corporate mentor, career sponsor, advocate, and advisor

Distinctions are not just definitions of words but tools that enable you to see things and to act on them in ways you couldn’t before you understood the distinction. One important distinction that Latinos who may be the first in their families to work in corporate America, frequently lack is the difference between a corporate mentor, a career sponsor, an advocate, an advisor, and a coach. As a result, they may fail to incorporate these critical people into their networks (or think that a corporate mentor is all they need;) and, consequently, they tend to remain stuck at lower levels in their careers, something they could overcome with the right support.

Definitions of corporate mentor, career sponsor, advocate and advisor

Recently, a mid career Latina I was coaching said to me, “Until two months ago, I never knew there was a difference between a corporate mentor and a career sponsor.” Naturally, she didn’t have both corporate mentors and sponsors because, not understanding the distinction, she didn’t realize the need for them.

Therein lies the importance of making these distinctions explicit to diverse employees:

  • A corporate mentor is someone you admire and respect in their area of expertise, who can guide you through the unwritten rules of the organization, provide feedback on your appearance and behavior, and help you figure out your goals.
  • A career sponsor is usually a very high-ranking executive, often someone within your organization who values your potential and goes to bat for you. The career sponsor is the person who opens up great opportunities and risks his/her reputation in the process.
  • A career advocate is anyone who sings your praises. They are your cheerleaders and can be at any level of the organization.
  • career advisor is someone you trust outside of your company and even your industry that provides feedback, guidance and objectivity you may not find within your organization.
  • A career coach is someone you (or your company) pay to work with you in specific areas where you need help or that you wish to develop such as presentation skills, communication, or leadership styles.
Making explicit the difference between corporate mentor, sponsor, advocate and advisor to promote talent up the ladder by Mariela Dabbah

The lack of distinctions in one area limits employees’ ability to grow in that area

Each of these individuals has a clear role to play in everyone’s career.  But for Latinos and individuals from a non-Anglo heritage, their importance is heightened given their more recent entry into corporate America and the challenges they still face breaking into the senior ranks. By not being aware of the specific role of each one of these people Latinos might fail to diversify their networks or might remain confident that all they need is a corporate mentor which studies show is really not enough to help you move beyond middle management.

Distinctions like these are needed in many areas of career management: from understanding the unwritten rules of an organization to being aware of how your communication style impacts your leadership opportunities to recognizing how your cultural background influences your attitudes and behavior.

Making explicit what people familiar with corporate culture know implicitly will help fast track many more Latinos  in corporate America.

Discrimination in the Workplace: Deliberate or unintended?

How does discrimination in the workplace manifest itself and what can you do to change any subconscious discrimination that may be at play?

Revealing new research from Catalyst and insightful analysis by our very own, Mariela Dabbah.

By Mariela Dabbah

Discrimination in the Workplace: Deliberate or unintended? Revealing new research from Catalyst and insightful analysis by our very own, Mariela Dabbah.

Discrimination in the Workplace: Deliberate or unintended?

The latest flurry of women being named to high positions is welcome news.

In the last few months we’ve seen Janet Yellen become chairwoman of the Federal Reserve, Mary Barra take the helm as the first female CEO of GM, and Melissa Mark-Viverito step in as Speaker of the New York City Council. Unfortunately, this great news has a seldom-discussed downside. It creates the illusion that there’s no longer need for companies and organizations to make an effort to address discrimination in the workplace. That opportunities to rise to the top jobs are available to everyone regardless of gender or background. That you only need to want the job badly enough to get it.

Is discrimination in the workplace unavoidable?

What can you do to change any subconscious discrimination in the workplace that may be at play? Revealing new research from Catalyst and insightful analysis by our very own, Mariela Dabbah.

What can you do to change any subconscious discrimination in the workplace that may be at play?

A recent study by Catalyst confirmed that feeling like the “other” at work eventually impacts an individual’s behavior. It begins with a real lack of access for people who feel racially/ethnically different. For example, people who feel different than others at work are assigned less senior-level mentors than those who don’t feel different. (58% of women who felt racially/ethnically different had mentors who were CEO’s or senior executives, as compared to 71% of women and 77% of men who didn’t feel different.) Chances to get plum assignments diminish when someone lacks senior-level mentors who can offer opportunities, and the likelihood of career advancement decreases as well.  Over time, people who feel different than their work colleagues start downsizing their career aspirations. In general, women are more likely than men to downsize their aspirations (35% compared to 21%), but this difference is even larger for women who feel racially/ethnically different (46%) and even more pronounced for those with multiple dimensions of “otherness,” (for example, a Hispanic woman.) In addition, being a mother resulted in the downsizing of career aspirations being even more pronounced.

Is discrimination in the workplace unavoidable? Read all about it!! Revealing new research from Catalyst and insightful analysis by our very own, Mariela Dabbah.

Is discrimination in the workplace unavoidable?

So what might be interpreted as self-discrimination in the workplace due to a lack of knowledge of what’s needed to move ahead (seek senior-level mentors who can become sponsors, for example) is in reality something different. Catalyst’s report concludes that fewer opportunities for those with multiple dimensions of “otherness” may be what’s harming their aspirations. In other words, an organization’s lack of mechanisms and strategies to guarantee that every high potential has equal access to a successful career track is what’s failing, not the lack of employees’ aspirations.

Not surprisingly, the report showed that women who felt racially/ethnically different were least likely to be at senior executive or CEO level in their organizations (10%, compared with 16% of women who didn’t feel different.)

What can you do to change any subconscious discrimination in the workplace that may be at play?

As someone looking for change, whether an HR practitioner or a professional woman feeling the impact of this reality, there are several things you can do.

1. Start by asking questions:

How are mentors matched with high potentials?

How can your company ensure access to high-level sponsors for all high potentials?

Are your ERGs leveling the playing field for people who feel as “others” or are they unknowingly  perpetuating discrimination in the workplace?

Are there effective metrics in place to track the progress of all high potentials, including those with multiple dimensions of diversity?

2. Print Catalyst’s report and bring it to work. Compare your numbers with those in the study. Organize rounds of candid conversations with all stakeholders to review and change any policies that negatively impact the career opportunities of your talent.

What might be interpreted as self-discrimination in the workplace due to a lack of knowledge of what’s needed to move ahead is in reality something different. Don't miss out. Revealing new research from Catalyst and insightful analysis by our very own, Mariela Dabbah.

What might be interpreted as self-discrimination in the workplace due to a lack of knowledge of what’s needed to move ahead is in reality something different.

3. Implement an experiential program where those in the majority get to feel “other” for a little while. Nothing like a personal experience to change people. For example, if you’re in a white male dominant company, send groups of two or three men to different multicultural women’s conferences. Or if the majority speaks English only, sit them in front of a Spanish comedy for an hour surrounded by Spanish speakers without the chance to change the channel.

These findings are not new. We’ve been discussing for decades the fact that people with diverse backgrounds (women more than men) have a harder time moving up the career ladder than their Anglo Saxon counterparts. This report gives us all reason to do our part to shake things up right now. Let’s not stay on the sidelines. Let’s take center stage and get it done.