Check Out WWEST's New White Paper on Sponsors vs. Mentors!

September 27, 2021

Written by: Vanessa Hennessey & Julianne Kim

We’re excited at Westcoast Women in Engineering, Science and Technology to announce our newest White Paper – "Sponsors vs. Mentors!" This paper was developed in collaboration with Jo Miller, globally renowned authority and expert on women’s leadership and speaker at the Simon Fraser University President’s Dream Colloquium (hosted by WWEST chair Dr. Lesley Shannon) on Women in Technology in 2017. Following the publishing of her award-winning book, Woman of Influence: 9 Steps to Build Your Brand, Establish Your Legacy, and Thrive, Jo consulted with us as a wealth of information and a true expert on how sponsorship is the key for employees to advance in an organization. Her insights allowed us to create this resource for women at any point in their career, as well as for employers and leaders in organizations to understand the importance of sponsorship and even how to be a sponsor.

But just what is a sponsor? And why do women in Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM) fields need sponsors rather than mentors to advance in their careers?

A sponsor uses his or her internal political and social capital to move an employee’s career forward within an organization. On the other hand, a mentor is an individual who acts as an advisor or coach for a less experienced or advanced mentee, providing expertise and professional knowledge from a more experienced perspective. To break it down further:

While mentorship is valuable, and we are in no way suggesting mentorship should not be utilized, sponsorship is really how power is transferred in a workplace. Women who are the most proactive in making their achievements visible are more likely to attract sponsors. At the same time, ambitious women underestimate the pivotal role sponsorship plays in their advancement. And the fact is that women are underrepresented in STEM fields; sponsorship is a valuable, tried and true way to bring more women into the spotlight and rise through the ranks to become leaders in their organizations.

In fact, a 2013 paper published in Social Forces found that women in STEM fields are more likely to leave their jobs than women in other fields. How should companies work to keep the women who are already employed in STEM? In 2014, WISE (Women in Science and Engineering), a group in the U.K., invited several STEM companies to address the problem. These companies developed The Ten Steps, a comprehensive set of guidelines to address the retention and progression of women in STEM. Three of those recommendations feature training: development for women, education for leadership, and sponsorship for female talent.  

In the early stages of their careers, women employees in STEM fields often are offered courses and conferences, but they also need one-on-one guidance through a mentor, and they can benefit even more from a sponsor who advocates for them and recommends them for coveted assignments and promotions and creates “stretch” assignments for them. And, according to Janet Bandows Koster, executive director and CEO of AWIS (The Association for Women in Science), some women might avoid mentorship because accepting a mentor as one of the few women in a male-dominated company might be seen as a declaration of weakness. Sponsorship is a more inclusive way of helping a woman advance within an organization, especially since one does not ask for a sponsor – instead, one earns a sponsor by the steps outlined in our new White Paper.

Find the new White Paper, “Sponsors vs. Mentors” here. Find out more about Jo Miller at her website and make sure to order her book, Woman of Influence: 9 Steps to Build Your Brand, Establish Your Legacy, and Thrive – in hardcover, as an ebook, or as an audiobook!