A person senior to you who advocates for your career progression (vs a mentor who simply advises) [Glass Door]
My boss regularly encouraged and supported me to take on new challenges and provided me opportunities to do so. For example, he asked me to present our work at city, state and nation-wide events in which he could have easily just presented the work himself. It was more work for him to guide me through it and he took a bit of a risk putting me out there, but he valued me and my professional development.
"What, do you think I'm too old for you?" said a 50-year old to me at a conference party – the next day my boss introduced me to him as the CEO of our department's 5th largest supplier: he said hi and immediately walked away. I felt pressure to not go to meetings with this CEO to avoid making him feel awkward AND, to top it off, I got reprimanded by my boss for 'skipping meetings' and had to explain why I wasn't going.
Facts and Data
Research indicates that women have many mentors, but few sponsors, and even fewer senior-level sponsors. White men often have an easier time sponsoring other white me and are less comfortable informally reaching out to junior female employees, especially women of color [Harvard Business Review]
The percentage of men with sponsors (19%) is almost more than 50% higher than the percentage of women (13%) [NY Times]
Across more than 30,000 employees from over 100 companies, two in three men indicated that the leaders who helped them succeed were mostly men, whereas only one in three women indicated the leaders who have helped them were mostly men [McKinsey / LeanIn]
Men can consciously or unconsciously avoid sponsoring women in the workplace. Spending one-on-one time with women can feel uncomfortable purely because of the optics. Since sponsorship is crucial for professional development however, make a concerted effort to overcome these obstacles and sponsor women
Some companies have created formal sponsorship programs that help connect junior employees to more senior employees. The intentionality behind the programs can help overcome the barrier to entry for people to connect across difference. Read about some examples here
There’s a great and actionable book dedicated the subject of effectively mentoring and sponsoring women called, Athena Rising. Check it out!