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Mentorship and sponsorship: how it helps in propelling one’s career in the corporate world and mitigates the female executive pipeline challenge  

Every professional aspires to climb the corporate ladder at an accelerated pace, mentorship and sponsorship could be beneficial in facilitating one’s rise in the corporate world.

Although mentorship and sponsorship are aimed at doing the same thing, which is to propel one’s professional career, they are inherently different in practice.

According to D’angelo M a mentor ‘is a seasoned professional who informally guides a less experienced person in their professional endeavor’. Cronin N defines a mentor as ‘a person who can support, advise and guide you.

They typically take the time to get to know you and the challenges you’re facing and then use their understanding and personal experience to help you improve.

On the other hand, sponsorees are defined as an ‘active advocates who create opportunities for employees that they would otherwise be inaccessible’.

A sponsor’s engagement goes beyond just providing guidance and encouragement they prepare their sponsorees for career advancement within their organization, introduce sponsorees to key people in the industry, they suggest their sponsorees’ names when career opportunities arise.

It is safe to say a sponsor is like a career ‘’fairy godmother or father ‘’ due to their benevolence in helping one progress in their career

Why is mentorship key for professionals?

Promotes growth and competency: it has been opined that mentorship propels growth among professionals.

  • Through professional advice and guidance from a mentor, a mentee can learn new ways to optimize their role, which in turn leads to career growth.
  • Mentors may suggest certain professional courses to their mentees that will aid them in getting better job opportunities or promotion within their firms.
  • The professional advice mentors offer their mentees helps them to be more competent professionals.
  • Ideally, a mentor is someone who has a wealth of knowledge and years of experience in the mentees’ chosen field; they know the ins and outs of the industry and will be able to advise on how one can navigate through their career to achieve advancements. (See Reeves M ‘What is the purpose of mentoring programs ‘ Together )

Career advancement: Mentorship is mutually beneficial for both mentor and mentee as it helps both parties develop in their career.

  • A study carried out on over 1000 employees to gauge the impact of the mentorship program showed that there was a six-fold increase in promotions for mentors compared to non-participants, and a five-fold increase in promotions for mentees, compared to their peers who did not join the program.
  • Therefore both mentor and mentee gain career advancement when they engage in a mentorship relationship. ( See Knowledge at Wharton ‘ Workplace Loyalties Change but the Value of Mentoring doesn’t )

Why is mentorship imperative for organizations?

Seeking mentors should not only be the task for employees who are looking for career growth, companies too should also establish mentorship programs for the following reasons

  • Employee retention: According to a survey Carried out by Randstad on the results of their mentorship program, they found that mentorship led to a 49% decrease in employee turnover.
  • Subsequently, the reduction in turnover saved the company $2900 per employee who participated in the mentorship program (See Together ‘Customer case study skyrocketing retention rates by connecting employees with Mentors).
  • Thus, companies who are looking to retain their employees should consider mentorship programs where junior-level employees are paired with a member of the management.
  • Greater employee engagement: Studies have shown that companies that have mentorship programs for their employees saw an increase in employee engagement after the mentorship program was initiated (See Reeves M ‘What is the purpose of mentoring programs ‘ Together).
  • This is most likely due to the fact that employees felt like a part of the organization, studies have proven that workplace connections have a strong impact on engagement( See Vance R ‘Employee engagement and Commitment’ Society for Human Resources Management).
  • Through mentoring, communication barriers between employees and leadership are reduced and workplace mentors encourage mentees which can also lead to better employee engagement ( See Bhattacharya P ‘What makes a Great Mentor and the Importance of having one’, Forbes )
  • Aids in the improvement of management and leadership’s insight and leadership abilities: Mentorship is not only beneficial for mentees it also benefits management and leadership.
  • Bhattacharya P submitted that as a mentor she has been able to gain valuable insight from her mentees about the organization, which helped her to develop her leadership and management skills ( See Bhattacharya P ‘What makes a Great Mentor and the Importance of having one’ Forbes ).
  • Due to the fact that employees aid in the day-to-day operation of the company, workers are typically the first to learn important details about a company.
  • By developing an internal mentorship program, organizations may open up a channel for employees to contribute by providing useful insight to management and leadership.

Benefits of sponsorship

It has been asserted that corporate sponsorship is what stems from a fruitful mentoring relationship (See Shortlister “The Mentorship vs Sponsorship Debate What’s better?). Shortlister refers to it as the ‘Second mentorship phase”, notwithstanding sponsorship can exist without mentorship.

  • Sponsors are usually at the top of the corporate hierarchy and often times they chose those who remind them the most, of themselves to be their sponsoree.
  • It is important for employees who want sponsors to study their proposed sponsor, in order to see what values they hold and what appeals to them the most. The benefits of having a sponsor are as follows
  • Advocacy: As discussed, the role of a mentor is to provide support, feedback, and suggestions on how their mentee can navigate through their career to attain advancement, a sponsor goes beyond this role.
  • A sponsor advocates for their sponsorees in circles where there are opportunities, they recommend one for roles, promotion, a pay rise, etc.
  • A sponsor wants to see you win and will do anything within their power to ensure your career advances ( See Ang J ‘ Find a sponsor’ ISB Management Rethink )
  • Key introduction: A sponsor takes the initiative to introduce their sponsorees to key people in the industry, they connect you to these people to help your progress in your career.

The benefits of sponsorship are not limited to the sponsorees, top-level professionals should also see sponsorship as mutually beneficial.

Corporate sponsors should view sponsorship as paying the favor forward and as a way of impacting the next generation of professionals.

Beyond personal professional feats, there is no greater sense of achievement than seeing someone whom you helped, soar professionally

Mentorship and Sponsorship and how it can help with the female executive pipeline issue in Nigeria

It is well known that there is a significant difference in the number of female and male executives in Nigeria. One of the reasons submitted for the disparity in gender diversity on the board is that there is a female executive pipeline issue (See Oladehinde TA ‘Women now have a clearer but slower path to C- suite’, Business Day). There are just not enough women at the C- suite management level to progress to executive levels. Hewlett contends that professional development options like leadership training, executive coaching, and sponsorship are crucial for firms to be able to retain and advance female talent, who may end up occupying directorship posts ( See Hewlet S A ‘ What women need to advance: sponsorship’ Forbes) .

Ibarra H submits that one of the reasons why women are not moving up the corporate leader is due to the dearth of effective sponsors, role models, and mentors( See Ibarra H ‘A Lack of sponsorship is keeping women from advancing into leadership’,  Harvard  Business Review) According to studies carried out, the majority of the women who had personal sponsorship from their CEO rose quickly through the ranks of the workforce.( See Barsh J &  Yee L(2012)  ‘ Unlocking the full potential of women at work’ Mckinsey & Company) . Thus, if more women are sponsored and mentored, it can help them advance in their careers to C- suite management levels thereby mitigating the female executive pipeline issue.

Importance of female-to-female mentorship/sponsorship in mitigating the female executive pipeline issue  

It has been submitted that female employees have reportedly been inspired to pursue senior positions due to female-to-female mentorship from senior executives.

This is due to the fact that they feel confident that if a woman can succeed they can succeed as well.

Additionally, it has been asserted that female mentors may advise mentees based on their own experiences and can connect to the difficulties women confront in the workplace better than male mentors (See Dr Collins S  ‘Think Gender diversity Through mentoring’ (Aspire).

This view is further buttressed by Bruce M who avowed that female-to-female mentorship is crucial because it offers female mentees access to prospects and builds their self-confidence in a workplace that is still frequently controlled by males (See ‘ Bruce M ‘Mentorship Matters: The importance of Female Mentorship’ , Forbes).

Therefore, this can help them in climbing the professional ladder and thus solve the female executive pipeline issue.

Despite the importance of female-to-female mentorship, there is a shortage of female executives that can mentor and sponsor other females, the corporate world is still largely dominated by men; consequently, it is important for men to take up the challenge to sponsor and mentor women in order to have more women advance to C- suite level thus mitigating the female executive pipeline issue.

At the Society of Corporate Governance Nigeria (SCGN), we offer mentorship for our members. In order to connect individuals, advance knowledge, and develop skills for upcoming milestones and goals, SCGN provides and facilitates organized professional partnerships.


In conclusion, individuals may benefit from support and advice throughout their career paths by combining the advantages of mentoring and sponsorship.

These connections can broaden networks, boost professional development, and improve chances of succeeding in career advancement.

Additionally, women are given opportunities support, and direction through sponsorship and mentoring that can help them overcome obstacles in the pipeline for female executives.

Sponsorship and mentoring can help close the gender gap and foster a more inclusive and varied leadership landscape by enhancing visibility, growing networks, improving skills, raising confidence, pushing for opportunities, exchanging information, and overcoming prejudices.

Oluwaseun Modupe Ogungbe is the Lead on (Research and Publications) at the Society for Corporate Governance Nigeria

About The Society for Corporate Governance Nigeria

SCGN is a registered not-for-profit organization committed to the development of corporate governance best practices in Nigeria. Today, the Society is the foremost institution committed to the development and promotion of corporate governance best practices in Nigeria.

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