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Women Need Sponsors

Written by: Sophie Warwick

Women continue to be underrepresented in senior positions. We often hear about the value of mentorship in the workplace, but less so about sponsorship. Individuals with a formal sponsor at their workplace are 97% more likely to report they have a clear plan for their career advancement compared to 75% of individuals who have formal mentorship programs (Gallup, 2023). Additionally, research shows that women tend to be over-mentored and under-sponsored (Harvard Business Review, 2019).

The conclusion? We need to start sponsoring more women.

What is sponsorship?

Sponsorship is often referred to as championing, where sponsors are actively seeking opportunities to uplift and empower the individuals they support. Sponsors use their influence to support their sponsee in accessing opportunities and their voice to advocate for their sponsee’s career advancement. Sponsorship and mentorship are complimentary and both serve the purpose of supporting individuals in their growth and development at work.

What is the different between sponsorship and mentorship?

Sponsorship is often considered the second stage of mentorship. Sponsorship can be seen as being the brand ambassador for a sponsee, helping to build awareness and reputation for their sponsee among their network.

Mentorship: Finding the door. Mentorship is founded in one party, the mentor, having more knowledge and experience, and sharing that information with their mentee to support their career development. For example, the mentee reaches out to their mentor to ask for support in developing their career plan. Mentorship relationships contain two core parties: the mentor and the mentee.

Sponsorship: Opening the door. Sponsorship contains a willingness to offer something of value to their sponsee. Whether it’s the use of their reputation and status, access to their clients, or making important introductions to their network, they are using their influence to benefit their sponsee. For example, the sponsor reaches out to their sponsee to encourage them to apply for a new job opening. If the sponsee is interested, the sponsor helps them prepare for the ask, and might connect them with the leader or recommend them for the role. Sponsorship relationships contain three core parties: the sponsor, the sponsee, and the sponsor’s network to which they are advocating their sponsee’s value to.

Why is sponsorship beneficial?

Sponsorship helps to recognize top performers and elevate their careers, facilitated through important introductions and advocating for their value. It can also play a key role in disrupting two common biases that women face in the workplace: the likeability bias and the similarity bias.

Combatting the likeability bias. As women, we may receive feedback that we are too aggressive, or worse, bossy, when we assert our value in the workplace. It can be extremely challenging to balance the expectation that we are supposed to be agreeable and likeable, while also asserting our value. Sponsorship involves a sponsor speaking up on behalf of their sponsee, which can help reduce the impact of the likeability bias, while still elevating women in their careers.

Combatting the similarity bias. The similarity bias allows us to see future potential in those who are similar to us. In contrast, we have a tendency to evaluate those who are dissimilar to us based on where they are today, not where they could be in the future. Sponsors can use their influence to validate their sponsee’s potential which can reduce the impact of the similarity bias, especially for members of underrepresented groups.

Reducing the impact these biases have in the workplace allows us to make more equitable decisions and ensure we’re hiring, promoting, and compensating fairly.


We’re not in a place yet where employees of all identities have equitable access to sponsorship at work. We support employers in implementing sponsorship programs to ensure equitable access to opportunity for all identities. Visit our website or email us at to learn more about how we support employers in building more equitable workplaces. Often that means creating intentional sponsorship programs, especially if the existing leadership team is male-dominated.


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