Latina Cubicle Confidential™ — Mentors and Sponsors At Work — You Need Both

By Dr. Maria G. Hernandez
Latina Cubicle Confidential™

It should come as no surprise that successful people have mentors — someone who takes time to help you navigate your workplace and the career decisions that impact your future success. Some large corporations are even making the effort to formally provide mentors for new employees or those who are being considered for new roles.

New research by Catalyst — a leading think-tank on women in corporate America — has now found that having a mentor is not enough to promote women to senior leadership roles. There also needs to be someone who actually promotes or champions a woman to be considered for new opportunities — a sponsor.

While it may not be difficult for you to find a mentor because asking someone to guide you makes it clear you believe that person’s success and achievements are important and valuable. A sponsor, however, chooses you.

When your work stands out or your performance is strong, a sponsor sees an opportunity to promote you. This is not a person who wants to take credit for your achievements; this is a person who understands the challenge women experience in the workplace and is willing to take action.

Effective sponsors are so valuable not only because of their good intentions but because they often have enormous access to other senior leaders or key decision makers that you want to access. This new research is so important that some companies are now realizing that if they want to increase the number of women in senior roles, matching them with a mentor and a sponsor is key.

This is particularly important for Latinas, too. According to the US Labor Department in 2009, only 3.3 percent of people employed in management or professional occupations are Latinas.

If your employer has not yet created a sponsor program, how might you draw attention to yourself?

Meeting deadlines, staying professional under the stress of your responsibilities, and producing results are all a given. It is most likely that the hardest task to secure a sponsor is to feel comfortable with the idea of positioning yourself to gain his or her attention.

As a woman and particularly as a Latina, the idea of calling attention to yourself may not be something you are entirely comfortable doing in the workplace. But then don’t be surprised when someone with less credentials or fewer achievements can advance their career simply by drawing attention to themselves.

Creating attention for your achievements is important now more than ever. The level of distraction and workload is overwhelming for many senior leaders. To get noticed, you’ll need to make it easy for them to see you for all you are and all of your potential, too.

A few of the key strategies to use: First, seek out projects that give you visibility beyond your own department. For example make time for informal leadership opportunities — leading your Employee Resource Group or professional association can offer ways for others to notice your skills.

Second, be prepared for the chance meetings with your boss or his or her boss. A 30-second ride in the elevator can be a chance to mention your work to a senior leader and get noticed. At one of the major Fortune 100 companies in which I’ve consulted, part of the Latino Employee Orientation program is to rehearse such a chance encounter and nail the one message you would want to give.

And last, don’t be afraid to ask someone to be your sponsor. It just may be one of the best requests you make to advance your career.

Dr. Maria G. Hernandez has 20 years experience consulting in both the United States and Mexico to senior executives in Fortune 50 companies and facilitated change initiatives for elected officials and their staff. She has worked in academia, business, nonprofits, technology startups, and public agencies. For more information, visit Latina Cubicle Confidential™.

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