Mentors provide a ‘safe space’ to improve your technical or interpersonal works skills. For years, only men had mentors, and it was one reason women didn’t advance. Now, women are being mentored like never before.

And that’s a problem. Women are finally being mentored; men are being sponsored. What’s the difference? Mentors help you ‘Skill Up’ and sponsors help you ‘Move Up.’ Without a sponsor, you may find yourself in a career corner: fantastic at your current role, but without the opportunity to do more. Many women, frustrated by the lack of real opportunity despite years of mentoring, give up on career progress or leave their company in disgust. Look at the different characteristics, and decide what you have, and what you need!


A mentoring relationship has these characteristics:

  • Hierarchy Mentors come from any level in the company.
  • Insider or Outsider? Mentors can be in your company or an external organization.
  • Mutual selection: A mentor can offer to help you, or you can approach someone for advice.
  • Skill-focused Mentoring helps you develop a particular skill, helping you perform better right now.
  • Personally satisfying Both parties are emotionally invested: the mentee gets personal and professional development, and the mentor gets personal satisfaction from your growth.
  • Safe Space: You discuss your fears and failures with your mentor, knowing that she will keep your secrets.

Does that sound like a relationship you have at work? Congratulations, you have a mentor!


If you want to climb the ladder at work, a sponsor is essential. Look for these characteristics:

  • Senior Level The sponsor is always more senior, even at the top of the company.
  • One-way selection: A sponsor chooses a protégé, based on their performance.
  • Company Insider: Traditionally, a sponsor is inside your company, and gets you new opportunities there, though external sponsors also exist. Regardless, they fulfill the next criterion:
  • Control or influence over hiring decisions The sponsor either makes the hiring decision for that role, or influences the person making the decision.
  • Professionally mutually beneficial: This relationship is about your and your sponsor’s professional success. Your success increases their power; your failure decreases it.
  • Brave Space: Don’t show your sponsor your fears. Show your confidence! If want them to believe in you, show that you believe in yourself.

Consider Melissa, a mid-level marketing manager. Her mentor, Lynda, a Sales Director, helps her improve her public speaking style. Her sponsor, Nathalie a Regional Commercial Head, wants to make her a Regional Marketing Head, a 2-step promotion. Melissa tells Nathalie, ‘That sounds like a great opportunity. Let’s talk about what I need to focus on to really succeed.’ She tells Lynda, ‘I’m really nervous about such a huge stretch. How do I make a good start?’

See the difference? In the mentoring relationship, Melissa builds her confidence and her skills. In the sponsoring relationship, Nathalie offers Melissa a new job.

Are you being mentored into a corner? Assess your mentoring relationships objectively. If you want a sponsor but have only mentors, look for new ways to meet and impress your potential sponsor. Break out of your corner now!

Editors Note:

A warm welcome to our newest columnist,  Dr. Marne Platt.  She is the President of Fundamental Capabilities and the author of Living Singlish: Your Life, Your Way. She started her career as a veterinary practitioner in the US. After leaving practice, she worked for almost 20 years in the pharmaceutical industry, in technical and commercial areas including Marketing, Regulatory Affairs and global management. Marne continues to work as a pharmaceutical consultant. Marne founded Fundamental Capabilities to ‘pay it forward’ by providing career development workshops and coaching for women based on her experiences. Her first book, ‘Living Singlish: Your Life, Your Way’ is available on Amazon.

Image:  Trapped 

Marne Platt

Dr. Marne Platt is the President of Fundamental Capabilities and the author of 3 books (so far): Living Singlish: Your Life, Your Way; Professional Presence; and PREP For Success. Originally a practicing veterinarian, she built a successful career in the pharmaceutical industry. She founded Fundamental Capabilities to ‘pay it forward’ by providing career development workshops and coaching for women. ‘Living Singlish: Your Life, Your Way’ is an ‘older sister in your pocket’ packed full of advice for young women on building their own independent and exciting life. 'Professional Presence' and PREP For Success' help you strengthen your spoken and unspoken communication and leadership presence.

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