I've wanted to write about the difference between Mentorship and Sponsorship for quite a while, but I haven't known what to say mostly because Sylvia Hewlett owns it so perfectly. Sylvia is the President and CEO of the Center for Talent Innovation and also runs the Gender and Policy Program at Columbia University, a program from which I recently graduated. Sylvia (literally) wrote the book on sponsorship. So I'm just going to share Sylvia's words from this Forbes Magazine interview with her.
In short, mentors advise; sponsors act.
Mentors shine as you start to define your dream. They can see and put into words for you what you may not see about yourself or be able to articulate. They can help you determine your strengths: what you do exceptionally well and what sets you apart.
...Research from the Center for Talent Innovation (CTI) shows that the vast majority of women (85 percent) and multicultural professionals (81 percent) need navigational help. Mentors can help you understand the unwritten rules, provide a map for the uncharted corridors to power, and reveal “the business behind the business.” Most important, by assisting you with this essential assessment, they prepare you to attract sponsors.
If mentors help define the dream, sponsors are the dream-enablers. Sponsors deliver: They make you visible to leaders within the company — and to top people outside as well. They connect you to career opportunities and provide air cover when you encounter trouble. When it comes to opening doors, they don’t stop with one promotion: They’ll see you to the threshold of power.
Hewlett also points out that women tend to be overmentored and undersponsored. When we talk about networking and advancing our careers, we tend to talk about the value of mentors, but not of sponsors. In 2014, I challenge you to find a sponsor or better yet, sponsor someone else!