Monday, September 9, 2013

Sponsors: The New Buzzword

"Sponsor" is the new buzz word in workplace gender equality circles. It's a new strategy that helps professional women get noticed by higher-ups and move up at the same pace as men. The trick is to find someone in a top management position that believes in you enough to risk pushing you through all the challenges women face in getting ahead at work. 

If you're wondering how that differs from mentoring, it is supposed to be a step up from just having someone prepare and train you for professional growth. The sponsors take you under their wings and serve as your public relations spokespersons. While the mentor works as an emotional support, the sponsor sells your talents to key contacts. Of course, there's also the task of guiding your professional goals, but selling is the main goal.  

Sylvia Ann Hewlett, who wrote a book on the topic, suggests that women try to recruit both genders as sponsors. Since men are still the majority in the workplace, she urges women to work with one to get ahead. Let's face it, it is the men who are willing to put themselves out there, to network and make those critical connections. Plus, managers hold more supervisory positions than women. This is not to suggest that female managers should not be considered, only that we should not be limiting ourselves exclusively to other women as a support system. 

I don't know about this. Networking is important, no doubt. Since the collapse of the economy at the start of this century, the popular chant has been "It's not what you know, but who you know". However, there are complications to consider. For one thing, most managers are pretty cautious at not being perceived as favoring one employee over another. They want to give their workers an equal opportunity to prove themselves. How does one go about recruiting a manager to invest in her future? Add to that the risk managers take when they appear too close to their female underlings. As professional as we try to remain in the workplace, you can't but help run into a male colleague who misreads your intentions. 

It's a tough call, one that requires us
to make connections while working diligently at breaking down protocols but hardening boundaries. 

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