For Women, For All: Mentorship, Sponsorship, Promotion – Part 3 of the Women & the Path to Staffing’s Highest Ranks

ThinkstockPhotos-144958718You can’t mention the words “career development” today without someone saying, “Get a mentor.” It’s a long-held belief that a mentor is a powerful ally to have as you navigate your career. A mentor will provide guidance as you face career challenges and advice on advancement opportunities. But is mentorship enough to get you ahead?

For women, the numbers tell us, mentorship alone is not enough. “The Promise of Future Leadership: Highly Talented Employees in the Pipelineis an ongoing longitudinal research project conducted by Catalyst—a nonprofit focused on expanding opportunities for women and business. In 2010, the study revealed that men were benefiting far more from mentoring. For example, the data revealed that women, even with senior-level mentorship, failed to get compensated the same rates men were being paid. Both men and women MBA graduates with mentors were more likely to start their first jobs off at higher levels than those without mentors. However, men were still more likely to start at a higher level in the organization than the women and were paid more.

Does Mentorship Matter
So, even if mentorship is one of the first things we think about in helping career advancement, is it one of the best ways to help increase the numbers of women in the staffing industry’s leadership ranks? “When it’s done right, absolutely,” said Bob Miano, CEO and President of Harvey Nash USA. “Mentorship is a powerful tool for advancement when it yields an active, dynamic relationship. But mentoring alone is not enough just as advice-giving and listening will only get you so far. You have to have mentors who know how to sponsor and promote their mentees. You have to have mentees who have specific career goals and are open to input.”

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Promotion Is Powerful
And as I have learned in researching the challenges of getting women to the senior executive suite, “active” is a critical quality in leadership incubation and advancement programs. The very best mentors are those who take the relationship beyond counseling and use their own influence to open up opportunities for their mentees. Whether it is recommending their protégés for promotion or introducing them to key decision makers, active mentors take action to advance the careers of those they mentor. In the world of career growth, this is often called “sponsorship” and it’s something more women need to see from their mentors or embrace as mentors themselves.

“You know you are in an effective mentor-mentee relationship when things are happening,” explained Nicole Smartt, co-owner of Star Staffing and co-founder of the Petaluma Young Professionals Network. “Are you meeting people you’re excited to get to know? Are you being challenged to put lessons you’ve learned to work? Has your mentor recommended you for an opportunity or promotion? Do you feel empowered and engaged? Do you like, respect, or trust their judgment? If you are not seeing results and measurable progress from your mentor-mentee relationship, don’t wait for things to happen. Find another mentor. The best connections are the ones that work well for both people involved.”

Don’t Let Gender Distract
When it comes to finding mentors for women executives, it’s important to remember that gender doesn’t matter. Men can be equally effective mentors to today’s rising female stars. Just like in the boardroom, it should be the work that counts and not the gender.

I was reminded of this fact when recently speaking with Joan Davison, president of Staff Management | SMX, after her talk at the Women’s Luncheon at Executive Forum this past March. Her message to other women seeking to take on leadership roles across the staffing industry was to not get distracted by gender or the idea that you “have the responsibility” to show coworkers or the industry what a woman can do. “Concentrate on what you want the business to achieve and don’t allow yourself to be distracted from that,” advised Davison, who believes strongly in the value of diversity. “Surround yourself with a diverse group of talented women and men whose varying perspectives will foster smart business ideas and openness.”

The Most Valuable Combination
As the staffing industry, like many industries, works to promote more women to its highest ranks, the focus must be on providing both advice and action to its rising stars. The counsel of mentoring is most valuable when paired with active promotion that can lead mentees to opportunities where they will have the chance to put good leadership advice to work.

MORE: Breaking the glass ceiling — a topic still very much on the agenda

Leah McKelvey

Leah McKelvey
Leah McKelvey is director, global enterprise operations, at Bullhorn. She can be reached at leah (dot) mckelvey (at) bullhorn (dot) com.

Leah McKelvey

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