Parents, teachers, professors, first senior-level supervisor: Besides being the authority figures that represent the average professional’s life course through childhood, schooling, and an entrance into their career field, these people share another trait.
They all have the potential to be mentors and sponsors who, female business leaders say, are just as important in terms of developing a person’s strengths, recognizing how to overcome weaknesses and providing a support system.
“You cannot do it alone. [You need] mentors and sponsors. There are differences and you’ll get different things out of each,” said Christine Cunneen, owner and CEO of Hire Image LLC, a Johnston company that provides background screening, drug testing and employment-verification services. “[You need] to know when to build and leverage [them].”
Cunneen on March 14 moderated the “Mentors and Sponsors – What’s In It For Me” panel at the Bryant University Women’s Summit, an annual day of education sessions and networking meant to inspire women to advance professionally and personally.
The panel focused on clarifying, for entrepreneurs and employees, the process of identifying and building relationships with both mentors and sponsors, and then how to leverage those relationships to advance a personal brand and achieve success professionally and personally.
Doing all this starts with knowing the difference between a mentor, who can be thought of perhaps as a friend who is able to offer clear professional advice, and a sponsor, who is a professional connection invested in advancing an individual’s career.
Both relationships take skills and time to build.
“A mentor is someone you know well and trust. A sponsor takes responsibility and risk for you. A sponsor will sell you,” Cunneen said.
A sponsor, the panel agreed, is much harder to come by than a mentor. Identifying and establishing a trusted relationship with someone who would, for example, recommend you for a job or promotion takes hard work and often happens more organically than through an established plan.
Michelle Abel, a director in the Boston office of PricewaterhouseCoopers LLP, explained how she offered that an employee would be a perfect face for the company during a recent conference.