What’s the difference & why you need both

I’m a huge advocate for mentorship. I created Break the Prototype, a free mentorship platform for BIPOC in tech. As a woman of color, I know all too well how hard it is to receive the same opportunities as our counterparts.

42% of women say that a lack of mentor/sponsor is the number one obstacle in their professional advancement, according to a survey conducted by Women of Influence. Taking it a step further, the systemic barriers for people of color (POC) compound the struggle. I’ll unpack this in a future post. However, it’s important to make mention of the professional challenges both groups endure.

A mentorship is an extraordinary tool for professionals at all levels. I longed for one after college. I constantly felt that I was floundering. Fast forward to 2020, I’m over 10 years in the game and now have a much-needed mentor. Better late than never, right?

As I did a little research for this article, I came across these images from Be Leaderly. Here are a few phrases that stood out:

Mentors talk with you
Sponsors talk about you

Mentors give you perspective
Sponsors give you opportunities

Mentors help you skill up
Sponsors help you move up

As I read these phrases, I realized Steven Ray, my mentor, is also my sponsor. I met Steve, Partner & Head of Design at Dialexa in the Spring of 2020. I’ve come to appreciate his energy and genuine interest in my goals. 🙌🏾 Not only has he helped me navigate career choices, but he’s in a position to create opportunities for growth. The right sponsor can use their political capital to move your career forward.

My manager Stephanie, is both a mentor & sponsor. She’s always searching for ways to help me advance. She even taps into others at Dialexa, like Principal, Sarah Reid. Sarah is in a position to identify key opportunities that, if done well, can lead to big things. She’s plugged into the client work we do for the consultancy. You might think of sponsors as your personal spokesperson behind closed doors. That’s where the career magic happens.

My mentors and sponsors have a macro and micro view of company goals and politics. The insider visibility leads to strategic moves made on your behalf.

Finding your mentor

Reaching your goals means having the right people in your corner. A few tips to help you find a mentor:

  • Evaluate what you want from your mentor What do you hope to gain? What skills do you want to grow? How will this mentorship give you the edge you feel you’re missing?
  • Look within your organization What better place is there to find a mentor than your current company?
  • Look outside your organization Tap into LinkedIn. Send personalized invitations to connect & tell them why you reached out. Shortly thereafter, invite them for a Google Hangout/Zoom/FaceTime chat.
  • Start small Invite your mentor prospect for a virtual coffee date. Don’t go for the gusto in the first meeting. Your mentor is likely busy. Think, low barrier to entry.
  • Ask questions and take notes Because of course, you should! If this person is a mentor you’d like to connect with long-term, show a genuine interest in the gems they’re dropping.
  • Show Gratitude Be sure to let your mentor know how much you appreciate their time!
  • Pay it Forward Become a mentor yourself! You have something to offer someone who needs it. No telling what that relationship may lead to in the future.

Seeking your sponsor

Looking for a sponsor will be a bit different from finding your mentor. According to The Muse, here are steps that will place you in the right place at the right time:

  • Perform Be such a badass they can’t help but see you. Doing so consistently will motivate a sponsor to advocate for you
  • Scout the prospects Who are the key people praising their direct reports? Who are your colleagues crediting with presenting opportunities for them? Take notice!
  • Exposure is your friend If there’s a void that needs to be filled, step up to the challenge. Getting involved in special projects, committees, and the like
  • Make your accomplishments known What good is an achievement if no one knows about it? Talk about your latest training, new certification, or awards.
  • Have clear professional goals Knowing your goals enables your sponsor to match you with the appropriate opportunities.
  • Share your goals with leaders Informing your mentors & leaders about your goals can lead to the right sponsorship.

How many of these things are you already doing? Sponsorship and mentorship can present themselves at any given time. Stay ready and you won’t need to get ready. 💁🏾‍♀️

Digital product designer at Dialexa, advocate for BIPOC, speaker, and hustler.