The importance of mentoring and sponsorship in women's career development

A group of female leaders in the workplace.

The latest McKinsey Women in the Workplace report highlights that despite society’s efforts for equal opportunity in the workplace, women – and in particular women of colour – are still drastically underrepresented in leadership roles and key career advancements. The good news is there are opportunities for organisations to advocate for their female employees through mentoring and sponsorship programs.

Mentoring and sponsorship are important tools for supporting and advancing the careers of women. These relationships can provide guidance, support, and advocacy to help women navigate their professional journeys and overcome the barriers and challenges they may face. 

In this article, we explore the importance of mentoring and sponsorship in women’s career development and discuss how these relationships can help high-potential women succeed in their careers. Read on to discover practical strategies for organisations that want to implement mentoring or sponsorship to bridge the gender gap and advocate and empower their female employees.

What are sponsorship and mentorship in the context of the workplace? 

Both mentorship and sponsorship can help women build confidence and overcome barriers to advancement. They can also provide valuable support and guidance as women navigate their careers and make important decisions about their professional development. 

Mentoring is a professional relationship in which an employee in a senior position provides guidance, support, and advice to a less experienced colleague, often in the same field or industry. A mentor can help a mentee develop new skills, gain knowledge and insights, and make connections in their field. Mentoring can also provide emotional support and encouragement, which can be particularly important for women who may face challenges or discrimination in their careers.

Sponsorship is a more formal type of support that involves someone advocating for or promoting the career development of another person. Sponsors are often in positions of influence and can use their power and resources to help the person they are sponsoring advance in their career. Sponsorship can be particularly important for women, who may face barriers to advancement and may not have the same access to opportunities as their male counterparts.

Inkling Insight: Ultimately, the key difference between a sponsor and a mentor is: a mentor is someone who has the knowledge and will share it with you, and a sponsor is a person who has power and will use it for you.

Also on the blog: The key differences between sponsors and mentors.

Why we need to sponsor/mentor more women in the workplace

There is a clear need to sponsor and mentor more women in the workforce to achieve gender equality and create more diverse and inclusive workplaces. Currently, women face significant barriers to career advancement. On top of unconscious gender bias, disproportionate household responsibilities and other common women in leadership challenges, the gender pay gap is still prominent. According to the latest data from the Workplace Gender Equality Agency (WGEA), the gender pay gap has stalled at around 22.8% in Australia.

By sponsoring and mentoring more women, organisations can help create a more equitable and supportive environment for all employees and contribute to the overall success of the organisation.

The benefits of sponsoring/ mentoring women in the workplace: 

Not only can women advance in their careers and benefit from the support of their leaders and senior women, but organisations can also benefit from advocating for their female employees. Some potential benefits include: 

  • Improved retention and advancement of women in the workplace
  • Diverse perspectives
  • Increased innovation 
  • Improved diversity, equity, inclusion and belonging
  • Enhanced skills and knowledge
  • Greater visibility for women who aspire to career growth
  • More opportunities for women to network

By addressing the barriers and investing in the development and advancement of women in the workforce, organisations can create a culture of inclusivity and support the success of all employees.

Also on the blog: creating an inclusive organisational culture. 

5 strategies for implementing sponsorship or mentorship opportunities in your organisation 

Both sponsorship and mentorship can be valuable tools for supporting the development and advancement of employees in an organisation – especially your female colleagues. Here are some steps organisations can follow to implement both sponsorship and mentorship in the workplace:

1. Identify potential sponsors and mentors

Look for employees who are leaders in their field, have a track record of supporting the development of others, and are willing to advocate for and provide guidance to their sponsored or mentored employees. These types of relationships involve ongoing communication and support, so it is also important that potential sponsors and mentors have strong communication and interpersonal skills.

2. Identify potential employees to be sponsored and/or mentored

Consider employees who have shown potential for leadership and career advancement, but may not have the same level of visibility or access to opportunities as their more established colleagues. Women and especially women of colour should be at the top of your list, but also look for employees who are motivated, proactive, and willing to take on additional responsibilities.

3. Establish clear goals and expectations

All parties in this mentor and sponsor relationship should have a clear understanding of what is expected of them in the sponsorship or mentorship relationship. This may include specific career goals, training and development opportunities, and ongoing communication and support.

4. Provide resources and support

Both sponsorship and mentorship can be time-consuming, so it is important to provide sponsors and mentors with the resources and support they need to be effective. This may include financial support for training and development, as well as access to key decision-makers and other resources.

5. Monitor and evaluate the sponsorship and mentoring programs

Regularly check in with both parties, to ensure that the relationships are meeting their goals and providing value. Use this feedback to make any necessary adjustments to the programs.

Taking the first step to empowering your female colleagues

Senior leaders have the opportunity to empower and advocate for females within their organisations through sponsorship and mentorship opportunities. If you’re ready to take the first step, get in touch with the team at Inkling to learn how we can partner with your organisation. Or to learn more, discover more about Inkling’s Women’s Leadership capabilities training and help your female colleagues reach their full potential.


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