Thinking about sponsorship

I enjoyed Pat Gillette’s presentation this week at the Bar Association of San Francisco on “Staying on Track,” focusing on the tools that 4-8th year law firm associates (or comparable level in-house counsel) need to stay on track in their legal careers.  Pat used the analogy of pigeonholes to suggest that in the past, women looking to improve the dismal statistics on women in the legal profession have been pigeonholed, focusing primarily on part-time schedules and flexible work options.  While that has certainly helped, the rate of progress for women has been so slow that Pat projects it will take 100 years to reach parity in the ranks where the economic and institutional power is in law firms — equity partnership and firm leadership.

Among the valuable pointers that Pat shared on how to become a power player was the advice to get a sponsor, and I could not agree more.  In fact, I agree so much on this point that I will be presenting to the Professional Development Consortium on this very topic at their upcoming annual conference in Seattle next month at the Westin Seattle, on July 14.   Confused about the difference between mentors and sponsors?  It’s pretty simple.  Mentors help you navigate your current terrain, offering you suport, advice, and counsel.  Sponsors, on the other hand, are people of influence in your organization who are willing to advocate for your advancement into ever higher levels in the organization.  If you’re like most high potential women, you’ve already been “mentored to death,” but are less likely than your male peers to have a sponsor, and a recent Harvard Business Review study showed that sponsors bring a statistical career benefit of +22-30%, depending on what the protege is asking for, and whether the protege is male or female.

Stay tuned for more of my thoughts on why sponsorship matters, and what you can do to attract, or be, a sponsor.

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