Women in Technology and Identifying Sponsors

I am planning for my upcoming quarter – as I tend to do.  While looking at events coming up next quarter that I want my product group involved in, I came across the Colorado Technology Association’s annual Women in Technology Conference.

My company, Zayo Group, is extremely involved with the Colorado Technology Association and is a proud sponsor of this conference.  I had the pleasure of attending this conference last year, with Zayo, and was blown away by the inspiring and incredible women I met there.

Speakers last year included the CFO of Comcast, VP of Analytics & Data Products at Ibotta, and VP of Risk Management & Managed Cloud Services at Oracle – among many others.  All of the speakers were incredible women who blew straight through the glass ceiling and are killing it in traditionally male fields.

This, of course, makes me think about marketing – which continues to leverage science more and more each year.  Marketing is largely even when it comes to gender ratios – which is really special.  I know I am fortunate to work in a field where my gender isn’t an issue at a company that values women’s contributions.  This is not always the case.

I wanted to share one of the takeaways from last year’s conference that stuck out to me, as many of you may not be as fortunate as I.

There is a difference between a mentor and a sponsor.

Madeleine Albright, former U.S. Secretary of State, once said, “There’s a special place in hell reserved for women who don’t help other women.”

There was a small panel discussion at this event that looked at exactly what the difference is between a mentor and a sponsor.  A mentor helps you along with advise and direction.  A sponsor pulls you up with them.  They help uncover opportunities for you to move up into.

While doing some research on this subject I stumbled upon a New York Times article on the very subject.  Sylvia Ann Hewlett, CEO of the Center for Talent Innovation in Manhattan and author of Forget a Mentor, Find a Sponsor writes, “To get ahead, women need to acquire a sponsor – a powerfully positioned companion – to help them escape the “marzipan layer,” that sticky middle slice of management where so many driven and talented women languish.”

She continues,

“Our two-year study, which sampled some 12,000 men and women in white-collar occupations across the United States and Britain, shows how sponsorship, unlike mentorship… makes a measurable difference in career progress… A sponsor can lean in on a woman’s behalf, apprising others of her exceptional performance and keeping her on the fast track.  With such a person – male or female – in her corner, our data shows, a woman is more likely to ask for a big opportunity, to seek a raise and to be satisfied with her rate of advancement.”

Hewlett does caution that sponsorship is a two-way street.  If someone’s going to stick their neck out for you, you’ve got to deliver fully every time.  You have to make them look good.  Otherwise you tarnish your brand and theirs.

At the conference, our table’s “luminary”, Roberta Robinette President — AT&T Colorado, lead a discussion about what the panel covered and stated that all of the sponsors in her career have been men – never women.    I think she had a point.  The only true sponsor I have ever had was a former male vice president.  That’s it.

How often are we really building each other up?  Not just emotionally, but professionally?  Rather than fighting to be the only woman at the table, why don’t we fight together?  It just seems a lot more productive if you ask me.

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