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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.

How great marketing mentors like Kathleen Haley build key alliances with men

Undoubtedly one of the strongest marketing mentors you could find, Kathleen Haley  started her career in the agency side and then moved to tech giant Hewlett Packard. What years of working at large corporations have taught her…

They say great things come in small packages and this is seldom truer than when you talk to Kathleen Haley, a petite woman who is a giant when it comes to branding, communications and marketing. Undoubtedly one of the strongest marketing mentors you could find, Kathleen is as demanding as she’s fun to work with. Born in the U.S. to a Salvadoran mom and an American dad, she’s had an impressive career which included roles at public relations agency Porter Novelli, tech giant Hewlett Packard, spice and flavor manufacturer McCormick and now at health care start-up Iora Health. She’s one of the hardest working people you’ll ever meet yet at the same time she always finds time to enjoy life and laugh a lot. There’s so much we could learn from her…

How great marketing mentors like Kathleen Haley build key alliances with men.

Kathleen Haley, one of the most sought-after marketing mentors in the industry

The making of one of the best marketing mentors

As a marketing professional and one of the most sought-after marketing mentors out there you worked both on the agency and on the client side. Which did you find most satisfying and why?

I started out on the agency side of the house, working in three different PR agencies, all focused on high tech. If I had to do it all over again, I wouldn’t change a thing. Learning PR and marketing (or whatever your focus is) is best learned in the agency where you’re doing the actual ‘doing’.   Through this experience I was able to learn from the bottom up and it helps me even today because I know what’s possible!

I love working in house now, but really think the agency is the best way to start out.

Both sides are satisfying in different ways.  In agencies, you go deep in a function and have the breadth in terms of the company exposure. At one point at my first job, I worked across seven different accounts (five different companies).  That’s a great way to learn!  By the time I left the agency world, I was focused on only one account, HP, so it was easy to jump over because I wasn’t getting the benefit of the agency life anymore.

On the client side, the benefits are different. You are able to know one company very well and learn the whole company (not just PR or marketing – but supply chain, operations, IT, HR, etc.).  During my career, I’ve also been able to go pretty deep in these different areas by managing the communications for them.  For example, when I was the communications lead for HP’s CIO and Executive VP of Global Operations, I had to understand those functions really well to help him with his communications.

As long as I’m learning and working with good, smart and nice people, I’m pretty satisfied!

The global experience of one of the most inspiring people in marketing

You’ve worked for global companies such as HP and McCormick and traveled extensively not only for your job but also as an international student. What differences do you seen in the opportunities for career growth women have in the U.S. versus in other areas of the world? 

First off, I’ve loved every minute of my global experience.  Living and working abroad is a much different and richer experience than having a global role from the US. But honestly, being an American woman in a global role in Europe is different than being a European woman in Europe!  I remember “pushing the envelope” – to use a well-worn phrase – a lot more than many of my counterparts in Spain, because I didn’t ever think that I shouldn’t.  Depending on someone’s upbringing, there are different expectations on what you should/shouldn’t do – I just never thought I shouldn’t ask a question, challenge the status quo…I also think a benefit for me was that I joined HP from the agency so I was seen as a consultant, which I think was a good thing.  Some of my colleagues and great friends pointed out, even then, that it was different for me because I was American. I don’t really know if they would’ve been treated any differently but they thought they would so they behaved a little safer than I did.  And this, oftentimes, led to fewer opportunities in the long run.

In my experience, women in Europe are, for the most part, in leadership roles only in certain functions – HR, sometimes Marketing/Communications.  But frankly, I see that in the US too.  When you look around the table of execs, it’s usually very male and the women are still in those same roles.  Not to say that there aren’t exceptions, but for the majority of groups I’ve been in, I’ve been the minority.

I had the luck of being able to sit at that table as a pretty junior person in Europe because I had a direct reporting relationship with the head of the business.  I used to tell people that it was a very long line, but a direct one! – so I saw from early on what it was like.  I think there’s a good way to work within the environment.  There’s an advantage to being the youngest and one of a few women – often times you’re underestimated. I took advantage of that to learn how the business worked and observed how politics moved things forward.

Many people would say that there are really big differences between the US and the rest of the world.  From what I’ve seen, it varies by company. Overall there aren’t enough women in leadership positions, but there aren’t enough Hispanics either…nor African Americans.  And then you get to certain companies where there are!  But they are few and far between.

One difference I’ve seen is the focus on changing the picture of leadership to have more diversity, including more women in leadership positions. I haven’t lived in Europe in a while, but it’s spoken about a whole lot more in the US than elsewhere but I don’t see that many companies doing really actionable changes in this area.  Talking is good, but measuring and having consequences for not making strides, is a whole lot better!

Diversity in leadership positions is spoken about a whole lot more in the US than elsewhere, says Kathleen Haley, one of the best regarded marketing mentors

Diversity in leadership positions is spoken about a whole lot more in the US than elsewhere, says Kathleen Haley, one of the best regarded marketing mentors

Overcoming adversity on the road to career success

Share with us one of the big challenges you faced in your career path and how you tackled it.

Challenges come often and while we don’t always view them that way, we should; they’re good.  And every choice we make – whether it’s not to make a decision or to make a conscious choice – is a choice that affects our career path.  A big challenge I faced was to make a leap to leave a dysfunctional organization. The first time I did this was extremely difficult.  There were people advising me to find a job within the company, stay until I had a new job, and a lot of other advice but I knew that while I had had a great run in the company overall, it had changed and was no longer where I should be.  I have values that I need to live by and I wasn’t seeing them around me any more.   I stayed much longer than I should’ve but the day I chose not to stay – not to find a job within the company – and to risk not having a job to get to something better – that was a scary day. And yet it was a great decision for me.  My challenge was to get out and take a leap without knowing what was on the other side, because where I was wasn’t good enough for me!

And since then, I’ve been less afraid to make changes – big changes – when I find myself in a place that’s not the best for me. Life’s too short to be less than happy.

How great marketing mentors build strategic partnerships with men

How did you build strategic partnerships with the men in the organizations where you worked so they would support your career goals?

It’s interesting because in my experience, I’ve had better luck with men supporting me than women!  (Blasphemy in this group, I know, but it’s true!)  One area where I think I need to work harder is building relationships and partnerships outside of the reporting structure for that extra support, to find and build mentor/mentee relationships that span jobs/companies.

What I’ve done well is that I’ve been able to work with several really great managers who have supported me – even when I’ve wanted to leave their groups to try something else. I’m a bit dictatorial when it comes to my career conversations.  In my first job, the agency instituted a policy that they would pay for one lunch a quarter for each employee with their manager to talk about career goals and development.  I was 22 years old and as soon as we had one lunch I would put the lunch date on my manager’s calendar for the next quarter! I am pretty sure I’m the only employee who had quarterly development discussions because of my determination!

And, today, I try and approach men – and women – with specific asks.   I call on people for different things – whether it’s challenges I’m facing, jobs I’m considering or thinking about my future in general..  I go to people I worked with, respect and have good working relationships.  I’m not great at building relationships just to network but I build them through working with others.  And since I have these relationships, I never have an issue emailing or calling them up to ask for help. But being specific helps. I appreciate it when someone comes to me for advice with a specific ask. If it’s broad, nebulous, it’s always harder to accept than if someone asks for 30 minutes to talk about something specific.

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A leadership style that works

What’s your leadership style?

If you ask people I’ve worked with, I’m sure they’ll say that I’m demanding but fair.  I have high expectations of my team and myself as I want the best results possible.  I get things done and love to work in – and work on – building high performing teams to get the best work. I always put my team first and invest in the team needs to improve team dynamics.  And, as a leader of a team, I see my self as someone who’s there to remove barriers for them.  And I always have projects that I’m working on as I never have been a leader who only leads, without projects to get my hands dirty on!

And I like to have fun. If we can’t have fun while working so hard, what’s the point?

You can connect with Kathleen Haley on Linkedin as well as make a statement signaling your support for women’s career success.