Mentors, role models and sponsors – what’s the difference?

Talking to some female financial advisers recently, it became clear that high-performing female advisers have one thing in common: a mentor, who often plays a key role in helping them navigate the industry.

Research shows that females in financial planning tend to stay in support roles longer than males with similar skills and experience, whereas those with mentors progress quicker.

The difference that mentors can have is to instil female mentees with the confidence to take on the next challenge, should that be what they want to do, when they might not feel completely ready themselves.

What’s interesting is that there is no preference for either gender when it comes to mentoring.

For me personally, I prefer a male mentor to bring diversity of thought. When I talk to successful men, it’s interesting to note their widely different experience to myself. And it’s not unusual for them to overlook the barriers I see or feel myself. In fact, when adopting this type of thinking, I can often ignore some barriers myself.

To say that barriers are imagined is a definite overstatement, but sometimes I notice I can build my own barriers and overthink possible scenarios that are unlikely to ever happen. I have noticed that my female colleagues can think this way too.

What my conversations with female advisers tell me is that role models can play a key role to help women achieve their goals. For many women, it’s often that seeing women in more senior roles can allow them to imagine themselves in those roles. It sounds simplistic, but even school-age students benefit from being able to see the possibilities in real form, especially in roles that tend to be common for males to occupy.

To achieve gender diversity in financial planning it is important that we show the pathways that different women have taken to become planners, and how they manage juggling their families and work, especially in an industry where females are under-represented.

As women, we handle things differently and have varied experiences. The more of us that tell our stories, the more likely it is that our experience can help guide and resonate with other women. This is the beauty of diversity.

By contrast to mentors, sponsors are influencers who promote and provide real opportunities for their protégés – whether by introductions, providing job opportunities directly or recommendations into new roles. A sponsor goes beyond talking through ideas and strategy with a mentee, and is a real advocate for you.

If you are looking for a mentor or sponsor, these support networks will provide different roles, so have a think about which one is best suited for you. A sponsor is someone who does more than believe in you, and can provide real career opportunity.

For people seeking mentors, there are a multitude of programs you can join and can match you up with people who are best placed to provide you with guidance and counsel, and share their experiences. If you select someone in your existing network as your mentor, you are likely choosing them for a particular skill or offering. This relationship usually works best when there is a real bond and meeting of minds.

For a role model, you don’t need to know the person, as long as you’re familiar with their profile and achievements. It’s a bonus if you know them, but it’s not necessary at all.

For a sponsor, it’s in both your interest and theirs that they know you well and there is mutual respect. If there isn’t, it is unlikely to result in further career opportunities. While these opportunities might not be immediate, there has to be a will and desire to make them happen. Sponsors, mentors and role models: is there a difference?

The answer is yes, but it depends on what you want out of it, so choose the type of support you need, and it’s sure to make a difference.

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