How To Utilize A Relationship With A Coach, Sponsor or Mentor


Two young businesswomen having a meeting in the office sitting at a desk having a discussion with focus to a young woman wearing glasses

The idea of mentorship has undoubtedly changed in recent years, with new advancements in technology and new types of careers taking form, including the rise of the gig economy, corporate culture evolution and an upsurge in digital entrepreneurialism. Receiving support and advice can make all the difference in the progression of a career, giving emerging professionals the guidance they need to advance their lives both inside and out of work to create a more confident and well-rounded whole picture.

This is particularly important for women and is imperative to getting more women in higher-ranking roles in companies of all sizes. The first "broken rung," or obstacle to advancement, that women face in the workplace is the step from entry-level positions to manager positions. In fact, the report states that for every 100 men promoted and hired to management, only 72 women get those same promotions. In time, this could lead to fewer women in C-suite positions overall. Thirty-three of the companies on the 2019 Fortune 500 list are led by women CEOs, the highest number to date. Although this is record-setting, women-led companies still only represent 6.6% of the total list.

This gender disparity isn't just an issue on the corporate level — it's worldwide, across all industries and professions. In December 2019, the World Economic Forum projected that it would take about 100 years to reach global gender equality. Melinda Gates also announced the Equality Can't Wait campaign in 2019, focused on accelerating progress for women in the U.S. so we can come closer to closing the gender gap within this lifetime, not centuries from now.

So how can mentors, sponsors and executive coaches be the missing link? Providing more employees, especially women, with access to resources to help them grow and advance will help companies succeed on a larger scale and, ultimately, impact the bottom line for both employers and employees. A 2019 survey found that 91% of employees who have a mentor are satisfied with their jobs. Uplifting women in entry and mid-level careers could also help increase their self-promotion; in 2019, a study by Harvard Business Review found that men self-rated their performance 33% higher than women who performed equally.

Professional Support Can Take Many Forms

What do mentor, sponsor and executive coach relationships yield? Mentors and role models offer general advice to emerging professionals often based in lessons they learned themselves while advancing through the same industry. Sponsors are actively and personally invested in a protege's career and make direct connections for elevation. Executive coaches provide guidance to help people work toward a specific goal or overcome a challenge.

Among outlining career goals and trajectory plans, questions women should ask themselves include, "When should I get a mentor?" and "Who can I turn to with questions about my development and career path?"

When professionals are looking for guidance from a senior-level adviser or peer they admire, the word "mentor" doesn't even have to enter the conversation. Consider connecting with confidants and respected colleagues who can provide advice without formally being asked to be a mentor.

Obtaining guidance also doesn't have to come from structured one-on-one mentoring sessions. Executive coaching, as well as peer-to-peer, group and community mentoring, are all options that can provide advice that's relevant to a mentee's career, as well as inspiration to go after goals and seize new opportunities. However, keep in mind that approaching a sponsor will likely be a more formal conversation, as sponsors are more directly vested in your success and advancement. A great choice would be a senior-level professional who you've made an exceptional impression on already and could vouch for your work and value to the organization. 

Some things to keep in mind when building a relationship with someone who inspires you:

Think in and out of the box

Be sure to not only consider mentors who have the position you'd like in the future but also people who have different career backgrounds that you can learn from. Hearing varied stories and pieces of advice from different sources can be extremely beneficial.

Coffee works, and so do conference rooms

Remember, you don't actually have to say, "Will you be my mentor?" Many mentor/mentee relationships aren't strictly defined and can take shape outside the confines of an office setting. An inspirational role model can give advice over coffee, a video chat, a phone call or a walk around the park during lunchtime. There is no mentor guidebook!

Be consistent

The key to any great relationship is consistency. Make sure to keep your meetings as consistent as possible based on schedules and availability in order to build upon the knowledge you're gaining with each interaction (even if it's once a month or every two months).

Objective, Third-Party Advice Is Highly Valuable 

Advice from a respected third party, like an executive coach, can help professionals chart their course. Oftentimes, emerging professionals need advice on topics that they don't want to bring up with official company HR representatives, bosses or even colleagues: for example, how to manage different working styles with team members or how to advocate and negotiate for a raise. Having an external coach or mentor to turn to for supportive resources can help professionals build the fundamentals of their careers without facing interference or judgment.

Additionally, professionals of all levels should seek to build a community around themselves to fulfill different needs in their careers, utilizing a combination of peers, senior advisers and outside resources. Maybe one person helps with work-life balance, another with confidence in negotiation and team meeting situations. You can think of this as your personal board of directors. Remember, a community is self-sustaining; giving support to peers is just as important as receiving it yourself.

The bottom line when it comes to receiving guidance and inspiration is that there is no one-size-fits-all path, and with technological and societal advances, you should feel empowered to own the process.

TONE Networks is an online mentoring and coaching platform designed to develop and empower early to mid-career female professionals who are short on time but high on ambition. Set the tone of your life.