Enough with Mentoring: The Best Way to Advance Women at Work

Is mentorship working to advance women at work? Research shows that alone, mentoring is insufficient.

A scene from the film Wonder Woman made me think about the the limitations of mentorship and the benefits of sponsorship. While Wonder Woman greatly benefits from mentorship, the movie illustrates how important and powerful sponsorship is.

About halfway through the movie, an armor-clad Wonder Woman, who has been trained and mentored by many experienced Amazons, rescues a city from certain destruction. She’s quickly faced with a seemingly insurmountable obstacle. She needs to reach the top of a towering building in order to stop the raining enemy fire.

Her teammates quickly grab a large piece of metal and create a launch pad for her. As she jumps, the group of men pushes against her weight, launching her higher than she could have ever leapt alone. As a result, her superpower and their strength stop the enemy fire and save countless lives. Exciting, right?

Being a mentor is the equivalent of absorbing her weight; sponsorship is pushing up as Wonder Woman takes a leap. 

The Power of Sponsorship

Mentorship is critical for career advancement and it’s absolutely essential to growing talent. But, mentorship alone does very little to advance women in the workforce. In today’s workplace, women are over mentored and under sponsored in comparison to men.

When you sponsor someone you intentionally use your power and influence to help them advance in their career or business. When men believe in men they sponsor them at work. It’s time to do the same for the high-potential women you know.

Sponsorship isn’t about giving advice, it’s about deliberately advocating for and giving stretch opportunities to your protégé. To be someone’s sponsor you use your influence, power, authority, and capital to advance them.

A mentor listens, advises, and asks questions; a sponsor provides opportunities and publicly takes risks on behalf of their protégé. Simply put, a coach will tell you “how” to do it, a mentor will tell you “what” you need to do it, and a sponsor will help you get what you want –  faster.

3 Ways to Use Your Influence to Advance Women Through Sponsorship:

Because women are one of the most underutilized resources that can advance your business, it’s in your best interest to find strong women to sponsor; to single them out and to push them to new heights. Ready for the opportunity? Here are three steps to get started:


Step 1: Find a Wonder Woman

Identify a woman who has high performance, high potential, and ambition. Unlike the movie, there isn’t just one Wonder Woman. If you intentionally look for them, you’ll find them all around you. The right person is one who will excel when given the right challenging opportunity, even if she’s not 100% ready.

If it’s unclear to you whether she has career/business ambitions, ask her. Never assume to know someone’s career ambitions — regardless of gender.

Step 2: Build a Launchpad

Next, identify a highly-visible challenging opportunity, role or assignment from which both protégee and business would benefit. Give or recommend her for the position or assignment and provide her with the resources she needs to be successful.  

Talk about her performance to others. You’re not doing her any favors here; you are simply sharing the same compliments you deliver one-on-one and setting both her and your business up for success. Make this leap as easy as possible. Give her direct, candid feedback and the resources she needs to be successful.

Introduce and endorse her to influential, powerful people in your organization or industry, including clients. Build a network of resources strong enough to support the weight of her power. She’s a strong candidate, you just need to be prepared to exert as much force as she does.

Step 3: Add Force

It’s time to push. To launch her higher. Make her and her achievements visible. Push for raises, promotions, and recognition for your protégé. Invest  time, expertise, and money into Wonder Woman. Do more than advise. Do more than listen and ask questions over coffee. Get in there and exert your power alongside hers.

Take note: I’m not saying your protégé is weak or incapable of advancing herself on her own. But, one of the most powerful things you can professionally do is to sponsor women.

Wonder Woman would have found a way, but her efforts were doubled, even tripled, by her teammates and sponsors.

When you sponsor women, you will both see greater success. Together, you can improve your project or business, and your career as well as hers. Consider downshifting your “mentor” role and take on the more impactful role as a sponsor, it will be worth it for both of you.