Forget mentors, find a sponsor

I know this heading sounds familiar. Sylvia Ann Hewlett wrote a book with this name – Forget a Mentor, Find a sponsor. I really liked the idea and title and since I was planning to write on fast tracking our testing careers, I told myself – I could just get more efficient by re-using what’s already created to highlight my message instead of reinventing the wheel again. (That’s the easiest way to feel guilty free of choosing a catchy phrase created by other)

A widely travelled lady in my network bought this to my notice that any conference she went to, she would always see a huge line in front of men’s room but there was never a line before the women’s room. And that thought sparked me to notice a series of observations – why just attendees, there were so few women speakers. At our own work place we had so few women managers even when we had a good percentage of women in the fresher’s batch. And this is disturbing.

It’s depressing to see how steep the decline in the number of women is as we go up the ladder. Every year we see more drop outs. If we could find what all is causing women to give up on their career at any stage –we could probably work towards supporting women on these issues and trying to fix them collaboratively. Being a taboo topic, it is difficult to make women come out and talk about it. Since it is easy to think that if a woman is talking about being a woman at work – it means – they are either asking for favors or are complaining.When neither is the basic idea. The focal point is having more women at work. And not talking about it is not helping anyone. The idea is not to portray women as needing help more than men. The idea is however, to want to provide women with whatever support and safety net and encouragement they need, to face the challenges. Can we help them to learn- to stick it out when the going gets harder and not just walk away.

NOTE: We can’t mistake this phenomenon to be local and assume that it’s something to do with the Asian culture that I see so less women at work. Mind you – I work with global workforce scattered all over the globe.

On getting deeper into, I could see few glaring issues, which could be really managed well with some help. One of them was mentorship and then mentorship versus sponsorship. First challenge is to make women understand they need help and they can get it. And they deserve help. Initially, I didn’t see much happening in the area but now I see lot of collaboration from both men and women on giving and receiving ends of mentorship, as individuals and community forums too. This is a very refreshing change but it has its own limitations too.

Let me stop here for a moment. Women need mentoring mentorship does help women a lot in ways one can’t imagine – simplest one being – knowing you are a part of a community who wants to grow together and in turn just being a role model for another woman can be a very encouraging and satisfying feeling. But I notice that women seek lots of mentors but don’t focus as much on sponsors. This needs to go hand in hand. They should seek mentorship and learn from the mentors but they need to step up and look for those powerful decision makers whose support can actually get them more help and support, in order to achieve their goals. Sometimes mentoring is not enough; getting access to all the right resources in time becomes the key to success.

One needs to engage with the key people at work. Depending on the kind of sponsorship you may be looking for, these could be – People who matter in board rooms, People whose decisions are honored in the company or People who are visionary or subject matter expert or some peer working at another location. Sponsorship doesn’t mean money. It means opportunities. It could be opportunity for one to showcase their abilities.Opportunity to get that one chance that could tell the world how special you are. It could come in any form – a key assignment , a key posting, a conference, a training, a promotion, an appreciation, a public acknowledgement of abilities – could be anything including money.

And key people have so much to do all the time. One can’t expect them to be interested in your career growth exclusively at any point. Even getting noticed seems luxury sometimes. So, what can you do? Unlike, the relationship between you and your mentor – which is unidirectional take only relationship, the relationship between you and your sponsor has to be bi-directional give and take one. Find out what all really matters to the sponsor because unless it matters to her/him, it’s difficult to get their attention. Then find out where all you can help and then engage with the sponsor on those areas. You should consider to first taking the sponsor’s interest in account and that should help you win what you need.

Another aspect I noticed is women don’t invest in their skill up-gradations through trainings. My personal observation (I mean no bias or offence) for population at large is that- Men treat their career differently and with more respect. Most of the women look at their work as something they do to just earn money and are so caught up in the daily fight to manage their work and home they forget to plan for their future at work. Men are meanwhile focused on learning and eventually get ahead. No one interviews a candidate to hire them for their gender. People want talent – most of the times, it’s not a bias against women that’s stopping them from being in the board of director of organizations but a lack of talent and attitude. How many times would you hear a woman talk about becoming a CEO eventually? Or working towards a new role and going through trainings, conferences and networking sessions to learn more.

This aspect should not be taken lightly. This is one of those key areas where we could improve on our own and get prepared for a better work life. This alone can prepare women to stand up against biases. One can’t expect to get promoted to a higher position for which multiple folks are contesting – men or women unless they are the best suited in all required ways.

It is apparent that – Talent can be enhanced/improved and shined by appropriate planning.

However, there are many other such areas, which can’t be changed as quickly. Aspects which are inherited through one’s culture, aspects which could be non-progressive in nature but could give a sense of belongingness.

“Attitude” is one such area that we could do better. Different cultures teach women to behave differently, think differently. More cultures are patriarch on the planet than neutral. This gives women a feeling of being less since the very beginning and directs them to think in ways which are detrimental in the long run. Independent thinking and ability to decide for one’s own self is very important. It is important to be able to say one is proud and happy of their own achievements. One should be able to freely express themselves.

Lean In is an organization for women, that asks women – what would you do if you had nothing to fear. Various aspects of attitude need scraping to bring out your true self. Could we unapologetically accept our abilities, take compliments and be assertive in our style of working? We are trained to be self-limiting and that gets in our way to achieve more (fighting patriarch society thoughts and principles). Can we accept ourselves as we are and face the world with no guilt and feeling of being less? Enjoy with the team, be a part of the team. Learn with them. And grow with them.

There is a certain part that other men, women, families and society in general can play in supporting growth of women. Those can be listed and assisted with. We need to learn on how we can work around to get that support and how a supportive family does make an impact on one’s growth in life. A family is one’s biggest and most demanding and unreasonable client. At the same time it’s the one you thrive on for bigger successes and happiness in life. So you need them but you need them to be supportive. Learn to support each one in the family in what they are doing. Apply the science we learnt while building sponsorship for ourselves. We can win their confidence by showing our passion and abilities and sharing responsibilities too. The more we respect each other, the more we get back.

With all these taken care of we sure can see more upcoming women stars in every field. The process has begun, results can be shortly seen but scale can be improved drastically.

My message to the readers – With all this said here, at the end of the day – one will still face challenges and will have low times. Sometimes things won’t work. And won’t work out for a longer duration than one can really handle. But one needs to just hang on. Time takes care of many problems that we can’t solve. The key is to ‘KEEP HANGING IN THERE”. Look for any and all support you can get from any direction. Stop fearing. Just go out and find your solution. TAKE CHARGE – simply, because it’s YOUR problem. DO NOT GIVE UP OR GIVE IN – EVER.

If this article motivates you to invest in yourself – please attend conferences happening near you.

About the Author
Smita Mishra is the founder and chief consultant at QAzone Infosystems, which is a pure- play software testing organization. She is a first generation Entrepreneur and is a Test professional who has spent over 12 years practicing testing and leading test efforts of varying sizes, cutting across all key domains and technologies. In past, she has worked with multiple organizations, likes of – HCL Technologies Ltd, Fidelity Investments, Nucleus Software Exports Ltd, Churchill Insurance (Now RBS) and led multi-million dollars testing projects, set up and maintain test centers for her customers. In her current role, she is involved in creating test teams, managing testing for software companies, leading the overall test strategy for them. She supports her customers in identifying the risks their applications are carrying and / or passing on further to their end customers, through carefully crafted skills of software testing. She is also engaging constantly with different forums to assist growth for women in her field and otherwise too. She can be found on Twitter at @smita_qazone. She is beginning to write blogs (not always testing ones though) that can be read at http://wordpress.smitamishrablog.com Linkedin Profile : http://www.linkedin.com/in/smitapmishra

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