“There’s always something well-meaning and generous about a more experienced individual advising an ambitious younger one,” Sava Berhané, associate director of Bentley University’s Center for Women and Business in Waltham, Mass., writes at FastCompany. Mentors can be wonderful as informal career counselors, but they won’t necessarily help you get ahead.

For that, writes Berhané, a woman needs a sponsor. Mentors lack capital or “a direct ability to give you opportunities, not just advice about how to maximize them when they come along.” Sponsors, on the other hand, “can not only advise you on your career, but actively help advance it. They have power in an organization and can use their social capital and credibility to advocate for you.”

Citing Harvard Business Review research, Berhané says women are 54% less likely than men to have a sponsor. That’s unfortunate because women with sponsors are 27% more likely to ask for the “‘stretch assignments’ that build their reputations as leaders.”

Berhané offers some tips on getting a sponsor and getting ahead. “Be strategic and specific. Join committees or participate in social activities that are likely to involve your potential sponsors,” she writes.

A sponsor needn’t be a woman. “It’s easy to choose a sponsor who shares aspects of your identity, personality, or skill sets. But when it comes to women’s advancement, men matter.”

Finally, don’t wait for a sponsor to find you. “Once you’ve made yourself known, started piecing together a diverse network of sponsors, and worked toward performing at your best, it’s important that you self-advocate for pay raises, promotions, and especially challenging assignments. We often think great work will lead a sponsor to take notice and pick us out from the crowd, but asking makes a difference.”

Sava Berhané’s article can be found here. Share your experiences with mentors and sponsors on GlassCeiling.com. Join the conversation.

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