By Elizabeth A. Campbell
Partner and Chief Diversity Officer, Andrews Kurth LLP
If I were to guess, in-group professionals (i.e., members of the traditional majority group) might admit to having a mentor, but they really believe that their career success was primarily self-made. They probably do not realize the “informal” mentors they have had. Because of the like-me inclination that we all have, these in-group professionals undoubtedly have had in-group sponsors—people going to bat for them without even being asked to do so.
Conversely, I would guess that out-group professionals (i.e., members of historically underrepresented gender/racial/ethnic groups) would say that mentorship played a significant role in their career success. It did for me. Absent formal mentorship, out-group professionals generally find navigating career paths very difficult, if not impossible, in workplace environments steeped in traditions in which out-group members are virtually invisible.
Coaching is one thing; sponsorship is another— requiring courage and confidence. In today’s competitive workplace, even the best mentoring programs may not be enough. The stakes are higher and the need is greater for people with influence to step up and sponsor those professionals under their mentorship. Having a sponsor to speak up for you when you are not in the room and when others of influence may not realize your worth is the recipe for success in the twenty-first century workplace. Call to action: identify a sponsor who will champion you!