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A valuable double-edged sword

09 November 2016

The ‘mentoring’ relationship is defined as one that provides the person with psychosocial support. ‘Sponsorship’, on the other hand, “involves proactive instrumental help to advance a person’s career”.

“Definitions like these can make these relationships sound rather clinical and just a little bit intimidating, which they aren’t,” says RAMS Home Loans Executive Director Ainslie van Onselen. She notes that for her “mentoring is a formal, regular catch-up with someone internal or external to an organisation.

“The mentor,” she continues, “is more senior than you and, preferably, someone you admire and aspire to be like. Mentors don't tend to see you day to day and, provide more arms’ length advice or an outside perspective.”

So how does the relationship come into being?

“Formal matching services or referrals are my experience,” says Ainslie.

“Perhaps a senior boss asks a colleague with who they think you will get along to mentor you.

“I’ve found the mentoring relationship a useful process to bounce career moves past. Mentors provide advice on how to build relationships and network, and you can check with them about what critical experiences you need to accrue,” she says.

“They can also be helpful on how to ask for a promotion, career break, pay rise, and, if you’ve ever wanted to sense check the veracity of your experiences - suss out if your environment is tough or if you are experiencing sexism, for example - mentors can help you sort through the grey areas.”

Sponsors, according to Ainslie, are far less formal and have seen how you operate at very close range.

“It's normally someone who has had the chance to work with you very closely and the experience is so positive and you have impressed them so much that that person recommends and champions you in the business and beyond.”

Examples of sponsoring include putting your name forward for a non-executive director position or new role; acting as your referee for years beyond when you worked for them, and keeping you in mind for future opportunities.

“Sponsors visibly ally themselves with you and champion you – in good or bad times. Sponsors are a valuable commodity and, in my opinion, you can't make someone be your sponsor - like respect, you have to earn it,” finishes Ainslie.

Both mentoring and sponsorship aim to improve a person’s career by increasing the amount and value of their ‘human capital’.

‘Human capital’ has been defined as “a person’s accrued knowledge, skill, experience and ability, gathered over time in a variety of settings such as in education and the workforce”. The rewards a person receives for their human capital – a higher salary, better standard of living etc. – provide a measure of its value.

Human capital can only be developed and made full use of if the person’s ‘social capital’ - connection to the community and society - exists.

Put another way: ‘Whereas economic capital is in people’s bank accounts and human capital is inside their heads, social capital lies in the structure of their relationships’.

And that is where making connections – networking - with people comes into play, according to Ainslie.

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