Sponsorship vs. mentorship: Which is best for your career?

While seemingly similar, mentorship and sponsorship offer distinct differences as workplace support and provide unique benefits for your career.

Sponsorship vs. mentorship: Which is best for your career?

Both mentorship and sponsorship are increasingly critical for success in a competitive IT talent market, especially for women and other underrepresented minorities in technology. But there are crucial differences between the two, the biggest of which lies in access to power and visibility within an organization: Almost anyone can be a mentor, but only those with access to positions of power and leadership, and the ability to improve the visibility of those they sponsor, can serve as sponsors.

“Mentorship is a relationship in which one person provides guidance to another, and then that person ‘pays it forward,’” said Pooja Jain-Link, executive vice president of the Center for Talent Innovation (CTI), speaking on a panel on Intersectional Sponsorship at the Grace Hopper Celebration of Women in Technology in October. “Sponsorship is a two-way relationship between a senior leader and a protégée that’s based on advocacy and performance; the sponsor is helping the protégée get noticed, while that person is doing the work and ‘repaying’ them by performance and their actions.”

Mentorship vs. sponsorship: Which do you need?

Knowing whether you need a mentor or a sponsor depends on the career goals you are trying to achieve, says Megan Cohill, director of strategic technology solutions at TEKsystems. Finding a mentor can help you navigate the day-to-day, and give you guidance as you progress in your career and face new challenges. But when it comes to landing a promotion, getting assigned to an important project, or even changing careers, that’s where a sponsor is most helpful, she says.

Traditionally, sponsorship is a means by which power is transferred in organizations. That access to power and the ability to use it on behalf of someone else is the crucial difference between mentorship and sponsorship.

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