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Champions power success for Women Professionals in the corporate world

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Glass chess pieces on a board

In today’s day and age of gender equality and equal employment opportunities, do women really need champions to help open doors to opportunities that can get them ahead in the corporate world? Won’t a mentor suffice? Or better still, don’t we have what it takes to achieve it all on sheer competency?

This week I’d like to know your view. I am keen to read what you have to say about this topic which has come up time and again both during my corporate world days as well as in my second innings career as a coach who endeavors to empower women professionals to play their A game.

I believe, without gender bias, that everyone should have a mentor, whether in school, college, work or even if you are running your own business. The mentors can change as you change but having one who has been where you are at a given point in time and is willing to give you the gift of experience and insights is invaluable to help you develop in the direction that you want to.

But a champion or a sponsor- that is a different kettle of fish altogether. It can take your game to the next level, provided you find the right champion.

The story behind the Champion vs Mentor debate

It started off innocently enough during a Get to Know You phone call with a mid-career professional who is doing well with her career but wants more. In the course of the conversation she proudly stated that she had gotten where she was without anyone to promote her cause but did not have the connections that will take her further and help realize her dream. She used the word mentor, but for all intents and purposes, she was alluding to a champion.

It got me thinking, do women professionals need champions or mentors? I reflected on my career and as a student of Social Science, who draws conclusions from empirical evidence, my first thought is that one needs both.

I believe that there is no gender discrimination when it comes to benefitting from a champion. The difference if any lies in the fact that women are conditioned to be self-deprecating and often find themselves balancing a family life which can take precedence with their career. Taking a career break is not uncommon but when they return to the corporate world, their male counterparts and other females who chose not to take the break are miles ahead. Sometimes they have to take a position lower than their actual credentials and competency just to get a foot back in the door. Or decide to do their own thing and a new entrepreneur, mommy-preneur or solo-preneur is born.

Women I find feel they need to know more before they apply for the promotion while men are more assertive and ambitious when it comes to trying to get the position, even if they are not the best qualified candidate for the job. So women professionals do need champions to encourage them and put the spotlight on them.


Gathering evidence that women need champions to get ahead in their careers and business

Looking back at my own career, I benefited from having both. The mentors who gave me perspectives and insights to look for an end goal and champions who knew that by shining the spotlight on me with the higher ups, they would get ahead with their careers while promoting mine.

The mentors are still very much there in my life, the champions are now faded memories from a long time ago and there is no guarantee that a champion today will not be the first to pull the rug from under your feet if promoting you further is not in alignment with the Champion’s own career goals or if you become a threat to the status quo.

The article To get promoted, women need champions not mentors quotes Sylvia Ann Hewlett, author of Forget a Mentor, Find a Sponsor and raises the point that you need a champion or sponsor who will promote you, the protégé behind closed doors and support you when it matters because you make them look good.

I remember an office event that dates almost 9 years back when 3 female tax partners visited from the Northern Americas office. All the female managers and senior managers were rounded up at short notice (read, while I was driving home at 8 pm) at a 5 star hotel’s rooftop restaurant for presentations and drinks.

I think they were meant to give us all motivational talks to encourage us to go for partnership as the firm in India at the time did not have female partners and very few women in the upper echelons of management anyway. We did get our first female partner the following year from the taxation services which was joked about by the men in hushed tones (her husband was a partner too) because that was the 1 department which was predominantly women-oriented and the staff actually went home at close of official office hours. Of course she had a male champion sponsor her.

Coming back to the event, each of these women gave a talk which followed the script of how bad life was and then they were discovered by a mentor/champion in the firm and things took off. Not one, I repeat not one said that she got where she was because of hard work or going the extra distance or proving that she was as good as any man for the job. No tips were shared about how we were going to do it though it was clear that each woman in the room needed a man to sponsor her.

As for the ladies who attended, we met up the next day and had a good laugh and discussed the whacking good free meal with flowing wine and how the story did nothing to motivate us because where were we going to find champions when we did not need to be rescued?

A global phenomenon, not isolated to women in India Inc

Whenever there is an article in the local or international papers about top women executives, there are very few women who have actually taken charge of their careers without the presence of a champion or sponsor or even a father who thought his daughter or daughters could run the company.

In search of more evidence, I came across a slideshare presentation by a young MBA student on the subject of Women in the Corporate World. The 5 women whom he chose to mention all had fathers or champions who promoted their careers with just 1 exception where the lady started her business from home and is now a world renowned name in the world of cosmetics. There are other women who have started their businesses at the kitchen table and finally become so successful that their husbands have had to seek early retirement to help manage the spouse’s growing empire.

To give the student full credit, he has looked at the gender bias in terms of opportunities and pay for women in a global context and perhaps, someday he will champion the cause of women in the corporate world.

Quite possibly, women would do even better if they had the support of other women who have trail blazed the path that they are now walking with mentoring and encouragement to dare to take up the challenge of reaching the top. Women, just like men, need to believe that they can have it all and take it from there.

So, what do you think? Do women need champions to get ahead in the corporate world? Or is it a mindset problem? I’d love to know what you think!


Related reading:

Women need power brokers not mentors to help them succeed


Women in the Corporate World


Do Women shy away from promotions
Written By: Vatsala Shukla

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12 Responses to “Champions power success for Women Professionals in the corporate world”

  1. This is an interesting post, as this topic just came up this morning in my art class. Our facilitator is a brilliant artist and teacher, who has been doing both for over 30 + years. She told us all today that she has been searching for a mentor, someone who could inspire and stimulate her to move to higher levels in her art and life. She got accepted to a prestigious programme in Scotland and even at her age and her experience level, is very excited to dive into an unknown experience to see what is there for her. Yes, having mentors or champions to support and inspire us is key, no matter where we already are in our own personal or professional lives. Great conversation, Vatsala. And an important one to keep alive in the world.

    • Karmic Ally says:

      Thank you Beverley. I agree with you that we need mentors and champions both in our personal and professional lives. The question that I often ask my clients is, what are you doing right now to be noticed and promoted by a potential champion? A mentor comes in useful in guiding professionals on positioning to be recognized by the champion.

  2. Heather says:

    Interesting!! As a woman in the corporate world, by my own standards I consider myself successful. Of course, I am also growing and do not want to limit myself. I have had mentors. I have had champions. I have busted my rear-end, too. I really believe it is about balance. Having constructive feedback from others is incredibly important to me. Had it not been for a former boss going to bat for me to continue my education, my company may not have approved the funds for me to do so. My current boss, without batting an eye, agreed to allow me to work remotely due to life changes for my husband and me. He is in my corner. That’s always a good thing. I believe that as women there are times we feel like we have to work harder as though we have something to prove. I’ve been there. In the company culture I’m in, women are not advanced. Yet I received the fastest promotion (at my age – not even in my 40’s!) in the history of the company – this is because I had both mentors and champions. I cannot define these things to an exact science, but I can write that I know it was my hard work along with these people who recognized it and helped show me how to continue to grow, I wouldn’t be where I am now. And for that I give thanks.

    • Karmic Ally says:

      Hard work counts, Heather, and I’m glad you brought up this point. Without demonstrating one’s abilities, one would find it difficult if not impossible to find a champion who can get us the support and resources that we need to get to the next step. Thanks for sharing your experience in the corporate world. I love it that you openly acknowledged that women too get their rear-ends busted, just like male professionals. 🙂

  3. Melànie says:

    Interesting article. I think it ia important that we have mentors throughout our lives, and that it can be beneficial to have champions as well.

  4. Lisa says:

    Great post! I have had so many mentors and champions on so many different levels, personal and professional and now on this new blogging adventure. I don’t know where I would be without these people, they always seem to show up with I need them…funny how that works.
    Some of my favorite mentors have been some of the most unique people I have ever met, they have made my journey more interesting if I had gone it alone.
    Great post!

    • Karmic Ally says:

      Thank you Lisa! What you mentioned about mentors showing up when one needs them is actually quite true. I think at the time when we really need help and think about it, the intensity of our desire and emotions is so strong that the Universe responds with help. It can also be that we become aware of mentors when we are ready to be guided. As Osho said, when the student is ready, the Master appears. Thanks for visiting the blog, it is always a pleasure to see you!

  5. Mary says:

    This is an interesting discussion. I think gender issues in the work world are still huge, and I’m not sure if champions and mentors are the solution. They certainly don’t hurt – but I think there are systemic problems that need to change, and values orientations in the corporate world that are damaging to both women and men.

    We know that women are capable and able to fulfill the roles. So why isn’t it happening? What other factors play into the gender discrepancy? How do we address them?

    • Karmic Ally says:

      You’ve raised some very important questions, Mary. We need more trailblazing women professionals and men in power who are willing to change the system from within. Within the accounting profession, there are 2 of the Big Four who had women partners decades ago while the rest are now catching up because it reflects on their global image to say that there are no women at the top.

  6. Liz daRosa says:

    It’s essential women have champions & mentors. I have found in my own career & life journey that these often come in unexpected people. I don’t focus on finding a woman who fits in a certain ‘box’ I can check off to mentor me or help me champion my success. I’m open to support from both sexes and hope I am a mentor & champion to men & women coming up behind me.

    • Karmic Ally says:

      I agree with you, Liz. It is more important to mentor and champion both women and men who have the potential to go far and yet women do need champions and mentors to help them overcome the stereotypes and biases so that they may make their mark.

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