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!
Written By: Vatsala ShuklaFollow Me
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