Women’s Leadership Series: Part 4 – Mentors & Sponsors

Author: Kara Reynolds

One of our most interactive and well-attended sessions this year was our Women’s Leadership Panel in October 2019. The audience and panel alike had open, honest and critical dialogue around supporting mentoring and helping to further advance women in the workplace. We’ve created a mini blog series to discuss the four topics that were dug into; Structure Around Promotion and AdvancementGetting Your Leadership to Buy-In, Engagement and Why It Matters for Women, and Mentors and Sponsors. Today, we will be focusing on Mentors & Sponsors.

Creating mentorship programs or even just encouraging young women to look for mentors and sponsors is a great way to help them gain confidence, learn how to navigate the workplace, and move toward advancement. The panelists mentioned the need for women to have both female and male mentors wherever possible, as they can bring different perspectives to the table. The difference between a mentor and a sponsor was discussed. Someone who is in management internally at a company, and who is rooting for someone, is considered a sponsor. They take special care to mention opportunities, provide a seat at the table, and give advice. A mentor can be from anywhere in your life. They could be at a different company, perhaps retired, or even from a different industry. Mentors can offer an aspiring young careerwoman wisdom and words of affirmation. Both are great to have, and everyone, even those who are considered “high up” at an organization, need someone with more or different experiences to turn to for advice. Young women who are looking to create a place for themselves to thrive, must surround themselves with people who are on their team. Though women must learn to ask for what they want, it is particularly helpful to learn how, why, when and to whom they must ask. Lastly, a huge part of mentorship and sponsorship is creating goals. A sponsor or mentor might help someone early in their career figure out what they want and need to be successful, and therefore which questions to ask from the beginning.

“I call it the humble brag.”

Mentorship allows for coaching opportunities for women to advocate for themselves. As the work environment changes, women can advocate for themselves, emphasize their abilities, and take credit where they deserve it. You cannot expect a culture to change around you and for you to go unchanged. Kathy spoke to this regarding learning how to discuss your strengths with leadership and being willing to take that risk. No one is going to brag for you, and if you know your strengths, speak about them!

In terms of new hires and the next generation moving into the workplace, the panelists had several pieces of advice for leadership during the hiring process. There are always changing expectations for new hires, and although there is a need for welcoming more women into the workplace, many young women have different skillsets than those of older generations. Kathy stated that the skills new hires possess are just different, not better or worse.  Jill, who is a millennial, spoke further to this as well. She said that people are looking for advancement a bit sooner, and she spoke to the shifting mindset of middle-management, encouraging them to give employees who have completed trainings the opportunity to lead projects and take on more responsibility.

“If we are investing in training more employees, we must give them places to use it.”

Women Get Things Done

The biggest piece of advice that the panelists emphasized, especially to young women who are just entering the workplace, is to remember that you’re more qualified than you think. Young women today are hard workers and need a place to showcase their strong work ethic. The group spoke about how women need to stop disqualifying themselves and stop apologizing for their needs – and perhaps apologizing in general. They emphasized the importance of speaking to girls in middle and high school and teaching them how to grow their confidence. Daughters see their working moms get things done both at home and at work, and this, in turn, affects how they perceive their own capabilities. The workforce is starting to embrace women in leadership and seeing the positive impact they have on companies and culture. Companies who provide women a seat at the table will continue to pave the way for female leaders now and into the future.

Where to Get Training for Leaders

Executive Resource Group

Leadership Programs

Emerging Leaders Program at UMBC

Dale Carnegie Leadership Training

High Gear Leadership Training

Leadership Training at Loyola University

Towson University Women’s Leadership Program

Griff Hall – Leadership Training Facilitator

Engagement (Surveys and other tools)



Saba (used to be Hallogen)

First, Break All the Rules by Jim Harter, Marcus Buckingham and Gallup

For more information about our upcoming learning opportunities, visit our SIG University page and register for our next session!