How Do I Find a Mentor or a Sponsor?
Navigating a career in technology can be challenging, particularly for women who may face unique barriers and biases. To succeed in this competitive field, having the right support can make all the difference.
Two types of support that are commonly used are mentors and sponsors. However, understanding when to seek each type of support can be confusing. There are differences between mentors and sponsors –this blog post will explain both roles, and provide some guidance on when and how you might need one or the other. Then we’ll explore how to find them in your workplace or network.
Mentor? Sponsor? What’s the Difference?
Both mentors and sponsors can play important roles in supporting women in technology, but they have distinct differences in their approach and level of involvement.
A mentor is typically someone who provides guidance, advice, and support to help an individual grow professionally. A mentor may offer insights into the industry, share knowledge and experience, and provide feedback on a person’s work or career development goals. Mentors can help women in technology navigate the challenges they may face in the workplace, such as dealing with bias or discrimination, developing new skills, or building their professional network.
A sponsor is someone who actively advocates for an individual’s career advancement within their organization. A sponsor may go beyond offering advice and actively use their own influence to create opportunities for their protégé. For example, a sponsor may nominate a woman for a high-profile project or assignment, introduce her to influential people in the industry, or even recommend her for a promotion.
Mentors provide guidance and support, while sponsors actively promote and advocate for their protégé’s career advancement. Both are valuable to women in technology, but a sponsor may have a more direct impact on their career trajectory.
When to Seek a Mentor
A mentor is someone who can provide guidance and support as you navigate your career path. They can offer insights into the industry, provide feedback on your work, and help you develop new skills. Here are a few scenarios where you may want to seek a mentor:
- You’re new to the industry: If you’re just starting your career in technology, a mentor can help you navigate the industry and provide guidance on how to build your skills and network.
- You’re facing a specific challenge: If you’re dealing with a particular challenge, such as struggling to get buy-in for a project, a mentor can offer advice and help you develop a strategy to overcome it.
- You want to grow your skills: If you’re looking to develop new skills or advance your career, a mentor can provide guidance on how to do so and offer feedback on your progress.
When to Seek a Sponsor
A sponsor is someone who can actively advocate for your career advancement within your organization. They can help you secure high-profile projects, connect you with influential people, and recommend you for promotions. Here are a few scenarios where you may want to seek a sponsor:
- You’re ready to advance in your career: If you’re ready to take on a new role or advance in your current one, a sponsor can help you secure the opportunities you need to achieve your goals.
- You’re not being recognized for your contributions: If you feel like you’re not getting the recognition you deserve for your work, a sponsor can help advocate for you and ensure that your contributions are acknowledged.
- You’re looking to make a big change: If you’re looking to make a significant career change, such as transitioning to a different role or department, a sponsor can help you navigate the process and connect you with the right people.
Finding a Mentor or Sponsor
Finding a mentor or sponsor can be challenging, particularly if you’re new to the industry. Here’s a simple process you can use to find a mentor or sponsor:
- Identify your goals: Before you seek a mentor or sponsor, it’s essential to identify what you want to achieve. What are your career goals, and how can someone help you achieve them?
- Network: Once you’ve identified your goals, start networking within your organization and industry. Attend events, join professional organizations, and connect with people on social media.
- Seek out potential mentors or sponsors: As you network, look for people who have experience in your field and who may be able to provide guidance or advocate for you. Reach out to them and express your interest in working with them.
- Build a relationship: Once you’ve identified a potential mentor or sponsor, work on building a relationship with them. Set up regular check-ins, ask for feedback, and be open to their guidance and advice.
Don’t be Afraid of ‘No’.
Some women in our group have expressed anxiety around the idea of asking someone to sponsor or mentor them for fear of hearing that dreaded “no”.
2Seats is committed to connecting women who want mentors to women who are willing to mentor, so being a member of our community makes this a little easier! You can ask us to help, and we’ll happily share your request with the group, and bring back a list of potential mentors who have already said they’d like to work with someone.
If you ask someone to be your sponsor or mentor and they decline, it’s important to stay positive and professional. Here are a few steps you can take:
- Respect their decision: It’s essential to respect their decision if they decline your request. Remember that they may have other commitments or may not feel comfortable taking on a mentoring or sponsorship role.
- Thank them for their time: Regardless of their answer, be sure to thank them for taking the time to consider your request. Let them know that you appreciate their expertise and guidance.
- Ask for feedback: If appropriate, ask for feedback on why they declined your request. They may have valuable insights that can help you improve your approach or identify areas where you need to grow.
- Look for other options: If someone declines your request, don’t give up. Look for other potential mentors or sponsors who may be a better fit. Consider reaching out to people within your organization or industry who have experience and expertise in areas where you need guidance.
Remember, rejection is a natural part of any professional journey, and it’s important to stay positive and focused on your goals. We should all probably say “no” a lot more than we do. By approaching the situation with professionalism and grace, you can maintain your professional reputation and continue to build meaningful relationships in your industry. Remember, one day it will be your turn to give back, and you’ll also need to decide how much of your time you can spare to support others.
What If It Doesn’t Work Out?
If you have a mentor and it’s not working out, it’s important to approach the situation with sensitivity and professionalism. Here are a few steps you can take:
- Reflect on the situation: Before you take any action, reflect on why the mentorship isn’t working out. Are you not receiving the guidance or support you need? Is there a personality clash or a communication issue? Understanding the root of the problem can help you address it effectively.
- Communicate your concerns: Once you’ve identified the issue, schedule a meeting with your mentor and express your concerns in a professional and respectful manner. Be clear about what’s not working and how you think the mentorship could be improved. Remember to approach the situation with an open mind and be willing to listen to their perspective.
- Explore alternatives: If you and your mentor can’t find a way to resolve the issue, it may be time to explore other options. Consider reaching out to other potential mentors within your organization or industry and see if they would be willing to work with you.
- Thank your mentor: Regardless of the outcome, be sure to thank your mentor for their time and effort. Let them know that you appreciate their willingness to work with you and the insights they’ve provided.
Remember, mentorships are a two-way street, and both parties need to be committed to making it work. If you feel like the mentorship isn’t meeting your needs, it’s important to address the issue in a professional and respectful manner. It’s also essential that you review your own part in the relationship not working and identify if any of your own actions have led to the breakdown.
If you’re interested in learning more about having a mentor or being a mentor, join us on the second Wednesday of every month at 1 PM ET – sign up once and you’ll be able to log in for any 2Seats event. We currently meet twice monthly – the second Wednesday is a mentor match and/or group discussion, while the fourth Wednesday features a speaker who shares on their career path. Both weeks have plenty of time for Q&A! If demand increases, our meeting frequency will follow. We hope you’ll join us:
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(This post was created with the assistance of OpenAI ChatGPT4, and edited by Carrie Richardson)