“Career Success: The Best Kept Secret That Will Fast Track Your Career”

Here's how women can get promoted faster


How to get promoted? Here's how you can get promoted

“It’s not what you know. It’s not who you know. It’s who knows you.”

~ A Wise Person

“Sponsorship is about the fast track. It’s about who gets promoted.”

~ Sylvia Ann Hewlett
Author of “(Forget a Mentor) Find a Sponsor The New Way to Fast-Track Your Career”


As a leadership trainer and consultant, I’m often asked how to develop the next generation of leaders.

Bottom Line Up Front

People companies want to promote need more than mentors. They need sponsors and a transparent, simple path for getting them.

The Surprising Reason Women Aren’t Promoted More Often

Hard work isn't enough to get promoted. You need a sponsor! ~ @CrystalMJonas #career Click To Tweet

Women tend to believe that hard work alone is enough to get promoted. Think about that for a moment. If hard work alone were enough to elevate women through the ranks, the Fortune 500 would have more than 4.2% of CEOs as women.

And you’d have had more women bosses.

The “Hidden Brain Drain Task Force” determined the role and impact of sponsorship and why more women don’t make better use of it.

The study found that women underestimate the importance of sponsorship in their ability to rise in the ranks. And those who do get its importance don’t make it a priority to cultivate these kinds of career-boosting relationships.

What can high-potential women who wish to be promoted do?

Cultivate sponsors.

Hewlett spells it out: “if you’re interested in fast-tracking your career, what you need is a sponsor – a senior-level champion who believes in your potential and is willing to advocate for that next raise or promotion.”

Mentors Not the Same Role as Sponsors

Mentors can be your peer, boss or friend. They don’t need to work anywhere you’d like to work one day. They bring wisdom and experience to your relationship. You can get both personal and professional advice from them. And, they expect nothing in return.

A #career sponsor advocates for you to get career-boosting projects & promotions. ~ @CrystalMJonas Click To Tweet

As author Sylvia Ann Hewlett notes, “mentorship is a gift.”

Sponsorship is a Strategic, Reciprocal Relationship

If you want to advance at work, and do so more quickly, you need a sponsor.

Catalyst, which is the leading nonprofit membership organization expanding opportunities for women and business, created an infographic distinguishing among coach, mentor and sponsor.

A sponsor, Catalyst notes, “is a senior leader or other person who uses strong influence to help you obtain high-visibility assignments, promotions, or jobs. The sponsor drives the relationship, advocating for you in many settings, including behind closed doors. (A sponsor will) advocate for your advancement and champion your work and potential with other senior leaders.”

#Career sponsors risk their #reputation to recommend you. Make them look good! ~ @CrystalMJonas Click To Tweet

“Women are often over-mentored and under-sponsored.” ~Herminia Ibarra, Professor of Leadership and Learning, INSEAD

For Women, Mentoring Doesn’t Lead to Promotions

Professor Ibarra noted that results from a study she helped conduct showed absolutely no connection between a woman getting mentored, and her getting promoted.

Research says #Women are over-mentored, under-sponsored. ~ @CrystalMJonas #career Click To Tweet

Notable in Ibarra’s study was the frustration from many women who said that their mentors gave them plenty of extra work, including “pre-work” and extracurricular activities, but these extra assignments didn’t correlate with promotions.

The take home lesson for women, at least, is this: a mentor may help you feel better about work, but she or he likely won’t help you take your career to the next level.

Mentors and sponsors have different roles.

Only forward-thinking, and generally larger, companies have formal sponsorship programs.

What to do if your workplace doesn’t have a formal sponsorship program?

Do this to move cultivate a relationship with a sponsor:

* Consider someone at work, perhaps your boss’s boss, who may be a good sponsor. You’re looking for someone with reach in terms of contacts and access, who could put you in front of people with the power to chose you for choice projects, and offer you advancement.

* Join network groups strategically. Chose wisely as your time is limited. Look for groups that have people of influence in fields and industries in which you’d like to work

* Be trustworthy. Think it through. When your sponsor advocates on your behalf, she’s putting her reputation on the line that you are consistently a professional, high performer. Make her proud that she vouched for you.

* Keep your weaknesses out of it. Sure, we all have flaws and vulnerabilities. Leave these for conversations with your mentor. Keep your conversations with your sponsor on a more professional level.

Sponsorship is earned

Catalyst strongly points out that sponsorship is earned, and to attract sponsors, it’s up to you to make your talents, skills and strengths known to both your coworkers and senior leadership. Act on your own behalf and consistently demonstrate your commitment to your own career growth. That’s the vital factor in catching the attention of a high level sponsor.

And, most importantly!

When you’re developing a relationship GIVE first. Give, and give some more. Ask someone you’d like to be your sponsor how you may be of service to him. Then, serve.

Hewlett explains how she once worked pro bono with a potential sponsor for three months (!) before letting him know what connection she wanted him to introduce her to. Of course, he was happy to make the introduction and endorsement.

Giving shows your professionalism, the quality of your work, and your respect for your sponsor’s position. Remember, sponsors risk their own rep when they recommend you. Give them the chance to really get to know your work ethic and attitude before asking them to go to bat for you.

Four Actions Companies Can Take to Develop Top Talent

Sylvia Ann Hewlett suggests four actions companies can take to develop their high potentials through sponsorships. Here are those four ideas with a bit of explanation.

  1. Make sponsorship program robust. Senior leadership needs to take a proactive role in talent management, and support the enrichment, education and growth of both women and people of color. Don’t leave this to chance, a clear path and a structured approach is the way to make sure this happens.
  2. Lead from the top. As with all successful initiatives, sponsorship grows with support from the highest levels of leadership. Leadership needs to be visible and vocal in their support of this program.
  3. Pay attention to the pipeline. Deliver sponsorship from the time an employee joins your organization through each career transition point, as in promotion to manager and director. Hewlett recommends that especially women and people of color, both typically underrepresented in leadership roles, receive sponsorship.
  4. Make sponsorship safe. Traditionally, people have sponsored people who look like themselves. Senior leadership can encourage this program by making sponsorship transparent, easy and simple.Some progressive companies are seeing the value in developing their high potentials, and giving senior leadership clear opportunities and responsibilities for developing their people.

Ibarra cites IBM Europe for being one such forward-thinking company. Senior leaders are matched with younger professionals who are high potentials. And sponsors are held responsible for developing these YPs.

When these high potentials are found to have gaps in their skills sets for the current or next level of career development, it’s up the their sponsor to find projects to help them fill in the skills gap.

Imagine what such conscientious sponsors could do for your organization in attracting, developing and retaining your top talent.

What have you found works for getting a sponsor and/or sponsoring others? Leave your comments below.

Also, if you’re looking for training in developing your high potentials for leadership roles, let’s chat. I also deliver coaching for leaders and future leaders.

I’m at Crystal@CrystalJonas.com 719.291.0366.


Please note: I reserve the right to delete comments that are offensive or off-topic.

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