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Mentors and Sponsors: We Are Our Sisters’ Keepers

As we explore strategies to address the scarcity of women in the financial services profession, the need for mentorship and sponsorship must be an important consideration. Mentors and sponsors differ in many respects, but both work toward the same result: helping you reach your career goals.

Carla Harris, vice chairman of global wealth management at Morgan Stanley, wrote Expect to Win: 10 Proven Strategies for Thriving in the Workplace. She explains that a mentor is someone you trust to share the good, the bad and the ugly. This person does not have to be in your organization or even of the same gender. However, the mentor should be able to understand the environment in which you operate in order to provide tailored advice. Communication and trust are important aspects of the relationship, because dealing with disappointments as well as accomplishments is part of the package.

Professional organizations, such as Women in Insurance and Financial Services (WIFS), have developed mentoring programs to support and encourage women already in the profession. In addition, the Certified Financial Planner Board of Standards’ Women’s Initiative (WIN) recently launched a mentoring program to pair women pursuing the certification with a current professional to help them throughout the process. 

In a newly released video, Sheryl Sandberg, author of Lean In: Women, Work and the Will to Lead, encouraged women to become mentors no matter where they are in their careers. She said, “It will take all of us to get to a more equal world, and we’ll get there faster by working together.” Her words are especially important because women often hesitate to take on a mentoring role if they have not achieved a certain level of success. However, Sandberg explained that it is never too early to start.

If you are a young woman with only a few years in the profession, you can pay it forward by participating in a school career day and exposing a young high school or college student to the profession. Senior-level women, although their number is small, can reach back and guide a high-performing woman through the ranks. Even peers can be effective mentors by sharing their experiences and offering their perspectives. 

A sponsor, on the other hand, is someone with whom you share only the good. Your sponsor is the person with a seat at the table, who is advocating on your behalf. Sponsors provide you with opportunities and connections designed to help you succeed within the organization. The sponsor’s purpose is to raise your visibility as a capable member of the team and make sure you are aware of available promotions and leadership opportunities that will maximize your potential.

A 2011 Harvard Business Review Research Report, “The Sponsor Effect,” found that women with sponsors are more likely to ask for stretch assignments, promotions and pay raises than women without sponsors. There is little doubt that sponsorship is crucial to career growth and success for women. Harris pointed out that you can survive for a long time in your career without a mentor, but you will have a hard time moving up in an organization without a sponsor. 

Oprah Winfrey once said that if you want to be an empowered woman, you have to empower women. To be a mentor or a sponsor is one of the most effective ways for us to help accomplish this goal. Each of us has a responsibility to give back and to be a resource for other women. We are our sisters’ keepers.


Jocelyn Wright is the chair of The State Farm Center for Women and Financial Services at The American College. Jocelyn may be contacted at [email protected] .

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