ABA President: Women Lawyers Need Sponsors and Mentors
American Bar Association President Laurel Bellows recently wrote about what it means to be a sponsor versus a mentor for Ms. JD, a blog for women law students and lawyers. In particular, she emphasized the need for women lawyers to have both sponsors and mentors. Access the post at Ms. JD or read the full text below:
A mentor alone is not enough to catapult a talented woman lawyer up the career ladder. For real career advancement, women need sponsors as well as mentors.
What’s the difference? A mentor gives advice, serves as a sounding board and makes suggestions, for example, on strengthening your work or searching for a job. A sponsor is an active campaigner (inside and outside an organization) on behalf of a particular woman. Even when a sponsor’s protégé isn’t present, a sponsor will tout her abilities: “Why not consider Rebecca for this position/for this client’s team/to handle a particular case? She’ll be terrific.”
One Catalyst survey found that women who have mentors are less likely to be promoted than women with sponsors. Another Catalyst study found that, while mentoring is essential for leadership development, it is insufficient for advancing to top levels. A sponsor “can propel a protégé to the top of a list or pile of candidates or even eliminate the list itself.”
To find a sponsor, identify influential senior-level people in your company, in your local bar association or industry networking groups, or in the American Bar Association. Then sell your potential sponsor on your performance and potential. That means vocalizing your strengths with conviction and fully endorsing yourself.
Sometimes you are fortunate to find someone who can serve as both mentor and sponsor. As I discussed in my most recent post for Ms. JD, I was privileged to have Esther Rothstein, the first woman president of the Chicago Bar Association, as my mentor and sponsor. I would not be where I am today were it not for Esther. Women need to focus on being advocates for each other in addition to serving as advisers.