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You’re stuck in your career. Don’t blame work-life issues. You need a sponsor.

Feeling stuck? As you’re assessing the reasons why you aren’t moving ahead, don’t blame lack of work-life balance.

According to the human resource consulting firm Mercer, the number one reason why women don’t move ahead in corporate careers is that they lack executive sponsors. The number two reason: insufficient operating experience. And the distant third: work-life conflicts.

A sponsor is more than not-your-mother’s-mentor. A sponsor is a higher-up who knows your work and who is willing to put his reputation on the line for you in closed-door meetings to which you are not invited.


Yes. Because men still dominate in the power positions, your sponsor is likely to be male.

At these muckety-muck meetings, big things get decided: who will get put on a key committee. Who will get rotated into a ‘stretch’ position that will give her key operating experience (see above) to qualify to a big step to, say, regional manager. Whose work merits a big bonus. Who is worth placing into an expensive, high-pressure leadership development program.

If you’re not in that meeting, you aren’t going to be able to speak up for yourself. You must rely on a sponsor to do it for you. A mentor will coach you, encourage you and help you see one or two steps ahead on your career path. A sponsor will pull that door open for you.

How do you get a sponsor?

  • Cultivate executive relationships when you are on mixed-level project teams.
  • Get involved in multi-level groups, such as women’s networks. (See the prior post for more about the strategic value of women’s networks.)
  • Get involved with whatever level of leadership is available to you. Start by offering to mentor someone a step behind you. That automatically makes you a leader, and qualifies you go to meetings for mentors.

And, most importantly, when you have traction in the relationship: Ask. Ask that executive what he or she thinks of your work. Have a short list of big accomplishments to back up your request. Ask him if he is willing to advocate for you at the next meeting about promotions, assignments, committees and rotations. If he doesn’t think you’re sponsorworthy, ask why. Listen, and change. And ask again.

Read more Women Drivers!

Image courtesy of morguefile contributor hotblack.

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