What is Sponsorship?

Updated: Sep 16, 2020

Written by Grace Oliver MS4 and Dr. Lexie Mannix

One of the most common themes in advice for career advancement these days is “find a mentor.” The fun part is that we are rarely told how to find a mentor, why we need mentors, or what role mentors are supposed to play in our careers. In addition to the lack of direction regarding mentorship, when you start to research “what is mentorship”, it becomes clear that there are several limitations to the benefits of this popularized mentor-mentee relationship.   

A 2010 Harvard Business Review article describes how women often have multiple mentors, and yet they still don’t get the same benefits that men do in terms of tangible career improvements. To see results the key may be more than mentorship, it may be sponsorship. There is quite a bit of scholarship regarding the sponsor-sponsee relationship. In this article series, we are going to give a crash course in sponsorship for women at all stages of medical training.

In Part 1 of this 4-part series, we are going to first discuss what a sponsor is, and how sponsorship is different than mentorship.

So first: what is a sponsor?

“A sponsor is an individual who is committed to the development of a program, project, or individual… Sponsors use their influence in a field to make mentees more visible… Sponsors risk their reputations when recommending junior colleagues… Sponsors may not be directly visible to the mentee; that is, mentees may not know when sponsors have supported them… They use their position to grow the field and pipeline of talent…” (Chopra, Arora, & Saint, 2018).

Chopra et al. do an excellent job here summarizing sponsorship. They discuss how sponsors use their influence to make thing happen, including developing, recommending, and promoting their junior colleagues. Sponsors use THEIR power to increase the power of someone else, by providing them with an opportunity.

Sponsorship and mentorship are two fundamentally different relationships.  According to Meyer, differences between mentorship and sponsorship include the tangibility of the relationship outcome- “while mentorships tend to be more ideological and ed