Directed Field Study – Week 2

Time spent this week: Approximately 5 hours.

Activities this week: 

On Tuesday I had my first in-person meeting with Jennifer, in her office. We had a rollicking conversation about the weaknesses of basic-level trainings like the one she had sent me (and wants to improve on), and identified the question of sponsorship vs. mentorship as an interesting part of support for women in leadership paths that neither of us knows a lot about but are both interested in. We agreed that I would pursue this specific thread for the next few weeks, as whatever I found would be useful for developing a future workshop. Thursday I spent some time browsing the stacks in the LB2332s (women in academic careers), and then searched our combined education databases via the EBSCO platform. I found 23 articles (both in the popular and scholarly literature) that looked promising, plus one additional book that I requested via interlibrary loan. I was able to print out most of the identified articles. The (Forget a Mentor) Find a Sponsor book wasn’t in from ILL in time for my trip to DC for the Spelling Bee (my daughter is speller #132!), so I will have to wait to read it until I get home next week.

Skill development this week: 

This week I worked through reading the popular articles (several from the Harvard Business Review, but others from various trade and popular magazines as well). ItIt was very interesting to see this problem described from a variety of perspectives, including general business as well as the specific fields of banking, law, and real estate/construction. None of these were specifically from education (which isn’t surprising; I would have expected to find them from CHE or something similar). Next week I intend to work through the six research articles, which may have some more directly relevant writing for educational settings.

I have certainly learned a lot in a short amount of time about the sponsor-protege relationship, both as a counter to and as a component of mentoring relationships. It’s interesting to me that sometimes sponsorship is presented as kind of an advanced form of mentoring, and sometimes as a different relationship entirely – to the extent of giving advice to find both a mentor AND a sponsor (and, in the case of an IBM program, the assignment of both a coach/mentor and a sponsor as different people). I’m starting to develop a working definition of the two, though, that I think will help in framing both my research and our workshop outline and materials.

In this working definition, a mentor is a person who helps you with skill development and with understanding the culture of your current workplace, such as through talking through problems that you are currently having. This is a very inward-facing relationship; the goal is to improve the mentee’s work skills or knowledge. Mentoring can come in many forms, including the traditional senior to junior model, peer mentoring between people of similar status, and various types of group/multiple partner mentoring. Mentoring reminds me a lot of a co-regulatory learning (or, in some cases, shared regulatory learning) model, in which mainly the mentee gains new skills, but the mentor also grows in knowledge.

The sponsor, on the other hand, is nearly always described as a senior person with influence within the company (or relevant decision making group) who can advocate for the protege, helping them get attention from decision makers that can translate into promotions and good job assignments (which also lead to promotions). This is a much more externally-focused relationship; the goal is not (necessarily) to improve the skills of the protege (though some articles talk about the sponsor as helping the protege develop “executive presence”), but to help others perceive the protege as a rising star.

In this relationship, the actions are not focused as much on learning as they are on politically-savvy moves – the protege may take on some of the sponsor’s work as a means of demonstrating skill and competence, and in return the sponsor talks her up to senior management, which in turn leads to another (assumedly plum) job task. Nearly all of the articles talk about how hard it is to find a sponsor (since assigning someone isn’t hugely successful, but neither is cold-calling), and how easy it is to lose one (mess up that second assignment, and your sponsor will walk). This is in large part because what the protege is asking from a sponsor is inherently different from what they ask of a mentor. The mentoring relationship is about knowledge; the sponsoring relationship is about prestige.

One of the things I’m realizing in this process is that I want to think seriously about who my sponsors are within JMU. We have a new provost coming in, and with my dean being relatively new (2 years) but with good standing (he’s the chair of her onboarding committee, and clearly already has her trust), I could stand to cultivate a network outside my close sphere that could get me onto university committees and task forces. I’m tempted to go talk to our Vice Provost for Academic Development, whom I like and admire, but I fear that I don’t have anything to offer her.

(This, incidentally, is named as one of the problems that women have with finding and leveraging sponsors. The articles suggest that women just aren’t very good at developing professional networks and then working them for advancement.)

I am also starting to think about how I might serve as a sponsor for junior faculty as well. This year I served on the jury for the conference scholarships for our major academic library conference, and got to meet 10 new librarians from across the country. We did a business card swap, and after the conference I reached out to all of them to congratulate them on their award. I closed by offering my support at any time. Two wrote me back – I’m wondering if I should check back with them again around the time of the next conference (it happens every other year). In addition, over the years I’ve participated in a number of mentoring programs through professional societies (as both a mentor and as a mentee). None of these have resulted in lasting relationships. I wonder what it would take to flip such a mentoring relationship into a sponsoring one?

Right now I’m at the spelling bee with my daughter (as noted above), so I’ll leave this post there. Plans for the coming week include reading through six scholarly articles and starting to collect the research reports (mainly from HBR) that have been cited by many of these trade articles. I will be back at the libraries on Monday 6/5 and hope that the ILL book that I requested will be in by then.


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