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Forget a mentor, get a sponsor in 2024


Overlooked for another promotion? Didn’t get invited to be part of that special project team that had the office buzzing? Then it’s time to switch your career mode from passive to active.

If you wrapped up 2023 feeling like you stood still professionally, then you’ve probably been pondering what your next move at work should be. Do you wait for your boss to realise you are ready for your next challenge – or cut your losses and try for a new opportunity with a different organisation?

While it can be both frustrating and disheartening to be skipped over or ignored in the workplace, it is rarely intentional. Management may be unaware of your desire to progress your career, or you may have been pigeon-holed by a perceived strength or weakness in your ability.

If this sounds like you, then it’s time to make 2024 the year where you make it known what you want from your job, and the skills you bring to your team.

But to do this, you’ll need a sponsor. 

What’s the difference between a mentor and a sponsor?

You’re probably quite familiar with the idea of having a mentor in the office, in fact, you may have had one, or even been one yourself for junior team members. So what’s the difference between a mentor and a sponsor?  

A mentor provides insights and feedback based on their own experiences to help you broaden your skillset. They are important for building confidence and can provide you with a safe space to soundboard ideas, before sharing them with your team or direct manager. 

A sponsor’s role is to act as an advocate for you. By knowing your aspirations and skills, they can make sure your name is in the mix when projects and promotions are being discussed. 

Ideally, your sponsor will have positional power to be able to influence your current role, and actively open doors for your next.

Who should get a sponsor?

While most workers will experience the disappointment of a missed moment to advance their career, data shows women are particularly affected by a lack of opportunity in the workplace. 

Women Rising’s ‘The Voice of Women at Work 2023 Report’ shows that 67 per cent of Australian women believe that their career is not progressing as quickly as they would like. Furthermore, 40 per cent state there is nowhere to move up within their organisation. 

Career development is the key for employers to retain women, with almost three quarters (74 per cent) saying they would leave their organisation if their current employer did not invest in them.

Additionally, women are also challenged in their careers by a lack of clarity on their goals and vision. For 43 per cent, it comes down to a lack of mentors and sponsors.

Any worker can, and should, find a sponsor to advocate for their personal progression, but it is especially important for women to ensure their skills, talent and worth are valued by their peers and leaders.    

How to get a sponsor


You can’t just ask someone to be your sponsor, it takes conversation and effort. 

Start small by identifying an individual in your organisation that is well respected and has a track record of developing and promoting talent. 

Be proactive in building a relationship with this person and use your catch ups to learn more about their personal career journey and aspirations. Don’t be afraid to ask questions about how they got where they are, and the experiences that were most helpful to them. 

You can then share your own objectives, but remember you are looking to create a two-way relationship. Offer your help to them where you can and show genuine interest in the advice they share with you.  

Maintaining the sponsor relationship


Once a relationship has been established, keep them informed about your progress, accomplishments and interests, so they can advocate on your behalf and put you forward for opportunities suited to your goals. 

Continue to foster the relationship and be transparent about your career goals and aspirations. However, it is important to remember you are not outsourcing your career development to your sponsor. You are still accountable for anything that does, or does not, happen. 

A sponsor has their own reputation to consider too, so give them plenty of reasons to advocate for you and make the most of every opportunity you are given. 

Relationships are one of the most important factors in our careers. Once you have one sponsor, start building a network of people who support you, and who you advocate for in return. 

And, when you achieve your goals, remember to pay these moments forward.

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