Mentors Versus Sponsors – Knowing the Difference & Why You Need Both

Mentors Versus Sponsors – Knowing the Difference & Why You Need Both

Relationships are one of the most important factors in our careers. Yet they are also one of the things that we can invest in least. It’s understandable – we are busy doing our work, getting through the day, and meeting our goals, and relationships can be the thing that we’ll get to if and when we have the bandwidth (and let’s be honest, we rarely do).

But when we do make the time and effort to invest in relationships, they can make one of the most significant differences to our career success and happiness at work.

Two of the key relationships that can provide significant support in your career are mentors and sponsors. These two roles serve different purposes, but their end goal is the same - to support you in achieving your goals.

In future articles, we’re going to break down both roles in detail and work through some strategies for how to leverage them. Today to set the foundation, let’s cover what each role does and the differences so you can start thinking about the applicability for your career right now, and for where you’re going.


One of the things that always surprises me, are comments from women inside the Women Rising program who are not aware of these two roles, and especially unaware that sponsors are even available to them in their careers. As we clarify each role (Module 3: Career Evolution), it’s like a world of possibility is opened as women realise the incredible support that is available to them on their career path.

This diagram is a great representation of what each role does and the difference between the two.

I like to summarise the roles and differences as follows and I hope this is helpful.


mentor is an advising role and can provide insights and feedback from their own experience. They can help to build your confidence and be that safe space, a trusted person to go to as a sounding board.

They can be a good a person to help with objective guidance, and also provide support when you really need it. This is particularly relevant perhaps in those situations where you don’t want to speak to your manager about a sensitive topic. Mentors are also a giving relationship, and a mentor expects very little in return from you.

sponsor is an advocating relationship, and is someone who invests in
and advocates for you. They’re the person who speaks about you when you’re not in the room, puts your name forward for the special projects or for that next promotion.

We earn the right to be sponsored through our performance and a sponsor typically expects loyalty in return. You won’t always recognise a sponsor until they have acted on your behalf. So you won’t always know who your advocates are, but once they act, then they will identify themselves. A sponsor will have positional power to be able to influence your role or your next role. And they can actively open doors for your career path.

Both roles can play a pivotal role in your career growth, supporting you or opening up opportunities for you.


1. What do you need mentoring on right now and who could provide it?
2. Who are your current sponsors and where do you need sponsorship in the near term?

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