Making the Connection

Mentors, sponsors, and a network you can count on

responsibilities included succession planning. When merger talks began in 2000, Larini and others recommended that Winston join a merger integration team. As a part of the group, she helped define the strategy that integrated Warner — Lambert and Pfizer in what became a $30 billion merger.

Today, the 45 — year — old mother of two oversees all aspects of finance and accounting for Scholastic Inc., a $2 billion publicly traded leader in children’s book publishing, distribution, media, and education. “I wasn’t consciously looking for someone to be my sponsor, but having one has clearly been an enabler for me and has been beneficial to my career progression,” offers Winston. “I was able to learn things from Ernie that helped me succeed at Warner — Lambert, as well as at my job here at Scholastic.” Although Larini has retired, Winston continues to keep in contact with her former sponsor and looks for talent within her own department, division, and throughout the company to see whom she can sponsor.

Like Winston, many career professionals are looking for ways to successfully navigate the tough and competitive terrain of corporate America, and the successful ones know that it’s almost impossible without mentors and sponsors. In an environment where promotions aren’t predicated on performance alone and plum assignments don’t always go to the next professional in line, mentors and sponsors are key components of the career strategy.

Women, and women of color in particular, are finding that having mentors and sponsors means the difference between getting ahead and hitting a cement ceiling. According to the 2002 Catalyst study Women of Color in Corporate Management: Three Years Later, 58% of the 368 female managers surveyed reported having a mentor — a marked increase from the 38% recorded in 1998. Among African American women, 62% had mentors. The study also revealed that seven out of 10 women of color who had a mentor in 1998 have since had a promotion, and the more mentors a woman has the faster she moves up the corporate ranks. Also, the greater number of mentors she has, the greater number of promotions she receives.

“For multicultural women, you don’t advance in organizations without sponsorship. It just doesn’t happen,” says Vanessa Weaver — Coleman Ph.D., CEO of Alignment Strategies, a Washington, D.C. — based management consulting firm. “So when you want to move into executive level positions, you’ve got to have a sponsor — and not just one. The decision about who advances is made by more than one person, so if you have more than one sponsor, it really increases the chances that you will get the nod.”

But what is a mentor? What kind of help can he or she provide? And how does one find and develop a relationship that will prove beneficial to a budding career (for tips on how to find a mentor or sponsor, visit In addition to a mentor some professionals gain access to a sponsor, a career — enhancing counterpart to mentors. But are sponsors better than mentors? And should you have one or the

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