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.

Career Coaches: Men Mentoring and Coaching Women

Men mentoring and coaching women - Career Coaches

Men mentoring and coaching women – Career Coaches

Men Mentoring and Coaching Women

Many of the powerful women I interviewed for my book Find Your Inner Red Shoes shared that they had received most of their mentoring and coaching from men. Some had early male career coaches or mentors who made a big impact in their journeys. Some sought out male mentoring and coaching as they moved through the ranks and became these men’s protégés. Regardless of the industry these women were in, they all found men who saw the value in helping them become leaders in their desired field.

The Real Role of Career Coaches

When you look for potential mentors to coach your female employees up the organizational ladder, it’s easy to settle for the more common role of a career coach: Helping people advance in their careers by refining their strengths and overcoming their weaknesses. What is harder to find are career coaches who guide your employees through a process of self-discovery that eventually leads to a better alignment between their inner strengths and passions, and their career track. Someone who functions as a catalyst for your employees’ ambitions and who guides them in the path to self-fulfillment which is the surest way to heightened career engagement and productivity. This is exactly the type of mentor that the successful women I interviewed had!

The Real Role of Career Coaches: Having a Career

The Real Role of Career Coaches

As you look for potential career coaches to match with females on the fast track, keep in mind that mentors don’t need to look like their mentees. For good mentoring and coaching to occur, it’s less important for it to be delivered by someone with the same background/gender as the mentee than by someone with the ability to unleash their mentees’ interests. In addition, what makes a mentor/coach most valuable is the ability to help mentees crack the code for career advancement in the organization—who to approach for what, what strategies will land them a seat at the table, best ways to leverage their background, and so on. In the best-case scenario, as the relationship progresses, mentors become sponsors introducing their mentees to key players and becoming conduits to bigger and better career advancement opportunities.

The Advantage of Men Mentoring and Coaching Women

When the goal is to promote more women to leadership positions and the dominant demographic in power is men, it’s important that men do some of the mentoring and coaching of the high potential women (particularly women from diverse backgrounds) to create a succession plan that includes both genders.

There are many advantages for your company to have men as career coaches for women:

  • Men can help women decipher the unwritten rules of the organization, the ignorance of which can affect women and other groups negatively.
  • Men can become powerful sponsors of the women they are mentoring and coaching, vouching for their abilities and integrity when a desirable position becomes available.
  • The exposure to women’s thought process, collaborative style, and approach to problem-solving can help men see the value of including more women at higher decision-making levels.
  • The positive impact of working with smart women who are advancing through the ranks can help change the perception that they are a threat to men’s power and elicit more support for women in the organization.
Career coaches

Career coaches

Potential Disadvantages of Men Mentoring and Coaching Women

Because men and women have very different management and leadership styles and because in most companies the top echelon of the organization is highly male, when you assign men as career coaches for women there is a  risk of perpetuating the stereotypes that have created the disparity in the first place. So it behooves you to identify the right men for the job.  Men who embrace change and welcome different approaches and ideas. Those who feel comfortable sharing knowledge and power because they understand that in the end the strategy will benefit the entire organization.

Finally, to achieve your goals of promoting more women to the highest decision-making positions, you might need to assign both a male and a female career coach to your fast track employees. The first one will share insights on the way men climb the ladder and the second will hopefully offer the tweaks necessary to succeed as a woman in your particular company.