Much research has been done on the difference between men and women in the workplace. Men negotiate their salaries; women take what they’re offered. Men talk up their achievements; women downplay theirs. Men ask for what they want; women wait to be invited.
Add in the fact that most senior executives are men who tend to promote other men, a.k.a. “the old boy network,” and it’s no surprise that women make up 47 percent of the US labor force but only 4 percent of Fortune 500 chief executives.
To help level the playing field, women are encouraged to find mentors. But if their goal is to keep rising up the workplace ladder what they really need are sponsors: high-ranking executives who work to get them to the next level by introducing them to senior managers, helping them land challenging assignments, and advocating for their advancement. These relationships have formed naturally over the decades between men in corner offices and their junior counterparts, but have not translated to women.
“Sponsorship is the way it’s always worked — that’s how you end up with more men at the top,” said Herminia Ibarra, a professor of organizational behavior at the French campus of the international business school Insead, who is an authority on sponsorship. Women, adds Ibarra, have been “mentored to death” in an attempt to close the gap, and yet they are less likely to get promoted than men.
This lack of upward movement happens in part because women’s mentors are not as high up as men’s, according to Catalyst, a nonprofit dedicated to expanding the role of women in business. Men are 46 percent more likely than women to have sponsors, according to the upcoming book “(Forget a Mentor) Find a Sponsor” by Sylvia Ann Hewlett.
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