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Sponsor, Advocate, And Mentor: What's The Difference?

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Nov. 24 2022, Published 8:05 a.m. ET

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While navigating your career, you may be wondering how to expand your network. As you travel on your career journey, learning the various roles those around you can have in supporting your advancement is important. Knowing the key differences between sponsors, mentors, and advocates can have a vital role as you advance in your career. Support while navigating your professional career can help advance you to the next level.

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In fact, researchers of the Center for Talent Innovation (CTI) found that “the vast majority of women (85%) and multicultural professionals (81%) need navigational support to advance in their careers.” Below we examine the three types of career supporters that may be of support and the differences between each one including a: sponsor, advocate, and mentor.

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Mentor

Mentorship can be seen as a partnership that allows you to obtain career advice.

Traditional mentorship entails ongoing advice, that can support you as you navigate your career. The advice of a career mentor can include supporting you in making difficult decisions such as considering when to make a career pivot or make career decisions like a transition into a new role in the company.

Harvard Business Review encourages transformational mentorship that they define as “a relationship that offers something powerful to both the mentee and the mentor — and it requires an equal amount of work from both.” Unlike traditional mentorship where the mentee primarily obtains advice and guidance on their career, transformational mentorship allows for both the mentee and mentor to learn from each other and support in sharing insights to support both individuals' careers.

Transformational mentoring is a term I use to describe a relationship that offers something powerful to both the mentee and the mentor — and it requires an equal amount of work from both. As a mentee, the trick to fully engaging your mentor lies in finding the right person: someone with whom you can build a relaxed, inspiring camaraderie, driven by curiosity as opposed to the binary instructor-student exchange we normally teach.

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Sponsor

While mentors provide advice and guidance on your career. Sponsors on the other hand “pull you up to the next level.”

The Sponsor Effect highlighted in ‘The Real Benefit of Finding a Sponsor’ by Sylvia Ann Hewlett “defines a sponsor as someone who uses chips on his or her protégé’s behalf” that may include the following career supports:

  • “Expanding the perception of what the protégé can do
  • Making connections to senior leaders
  • Promoting his or her visibility
  • Opening up career opportunities
  • Offering advice on appearance and executive presence;
  • Making connections outside the company
  • And giving advice.”
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Rosalind Hudnell, Chief Diversity Officer for Intel notes that when advancing your career to the next level and feedback from other leaders becomes critical she states - “Having a sponsor who can provide that endorsement is critical.” Thus, while a mentor provides the insights the sponsor can provide the direct connection in building bridges and opening opportunities in their personal network to support you on your journey.

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Advocate

Career Advocates can provide powerful support on your career journey. Smriti Kalra, Senior Strategy & Planning Manager shared that advocates provide:

  • “Advocates for your visibility and connects you to career opportunities
  • Makes you more open to see your transferable skills and feel more valued personally and professionally
  • Levels the playing field for everyone, regardless of their gender, culture or background differences”
  • Bring awareness and support as you navigate the various levels of your career

Conclusion

Mentors, sponsors, and advocates support you in various ways on your career journey at different levels. Whether you need the advice of a mentor, bridges built through your sponsor, or visibility for career opportunities via your advocate - career support exists. It is never too late to reach out to gain the support you need!

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By: Shari Walker

Shari Walker is a former foster-care child who now advocates for mental health and wellness through her advocacy work, socially conscious writing, empowerment coaching, and spoken word poetry. She is a graduate of the University of Southern California’s Social Work-Social Change and Innovation master’s program, who has advocated alongside the Alliance for Children’s Rights, The RightWay Foundation, the National Foster Youth Institute, and the California Youth Connection.

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