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There has been much discussion raised about "Why are women leaving Architecture? and more broadly, Why is the profession losing key talent?"  Both women and men practitioners are disillusioned by the myth of work/life balance: Women are grappling with "have it all" expectations of juggling family time with the demands of full-time work.  Men are struggling to support their families solely on an architect's salary and fall back on asking spouses to maintain their jobs. The lack of affordable childcare and high cost of living only magnifies the challenges.  How did we end up in this modern family dilemma? What can we do to improve the situation?

To get promoted, think Sponsors, not Mentors.

An interesting discussion with an architect colleague a few nights ago followed by the timely discovery of this article the next day on Quartz called "To get promoted, Women need Champions, Not Mentors" brings us to an interesting point for discussion. Providing a resounding affirmation within the title, the article references Sylvia Ann Hewlett's book "(forget a mentor) Find a Sponsor" , which makes a compelling case for why Sponsorship is more powerful than mentorship in terms of career advancement.

Who’s pulling for you? Who’s defending your position? Who’s suggesting you for the lead role in the next project? Odds are this person is not a mentor but a sponsor. Mentors can build your self-esteem and provide a sounding board - but they are likely not the ones who will help advance your promotions or career.

Our discussion compared the book, The Hunger Games, to the benefits of Sponsorship, where life or death depended on key alliances during the competition.

Advancement does not occur on merit and hard work alone. You will increase your chances of success if you have a sponsor - a senior-level champion ideally within your organization who believes in your potential and is willing to advocate for that next raise or promotion.

The key difference, mentioned in the Quartz article. between mentors and sponsors are mentors are one-way streets, giving their chosen mentee a gift of wisdom, time and advice. Sponsorship requires reciprocity and commitment; sponsors serve as champions.

One in five US companies have sponsor programs, according to the Society of Human Resource Management, and many professional associations also match young people to mentors.  Mentoring is easier to encourage and develop, but according to Hewlett, sponsorship pays off—and may even help women with break-through assignments and promotions.

“Sponsors advocate on [behalf of] their protégé, connecting them to important players and assignments. In doing so, they make themselves look good,” Hewlett wrote in a New York Times piece. The sponsor trusts the protégé to advance his/her cause.

Having a sponsor act on a woman’s behalf, apprising others of her exceptional performance and keeping her on the fast track. With such a person — male or female — in her corner, our data shows, a woman is more likely to ask for a big opportunity, to seek a raise and to be satisfied with her rate of advancement.       

Hewlett’s research—based on surveys of 9,983 workers in the US and UK, and more than 100 managers through online focus groups from 2010 to 2012—shows that sponsorship can give up to a 30% boost in stretch assignments and pay increases.

While mentorship may have its benefits, the book provides compelling data to adopt the Sponsorship model to career advancement. How can we apply this to the equitable practice of Architecture?


by Rosa T. Sheng, AIA, LEED AP BD+C