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Why you should nuture sponsorship to improve your career progression

Woman applauds at a career sponsorship meeting

ARTICLE SUMMARY

In this piece, Emily Nerland, Vice President of Global Sales at DNS and enterprise networking company, NS1, takes a look at why having a sponsor is a way for women in tech to grow.

THERE’S NOTHING QUITE SO REASSURING AS KNOWING THAT YOU HAVE SOMEONE IN YOUR CORNER. IF YOU CAN RELY ON THEM, EVEN WHEN YOU’RE NOT FIGHTING IN THE RING, THAT’S EVEN BETTER.

The difference between coaching, mentoring and sponsorship is subtle, but important. Lots of women are coached during their career, whether it’s to prepare for a promotion, or to help with seeing a project through. A mentor usually provides guidance based on their own experiences and applies it to your personal circumstance. They make recommendations and provide useful contacts.

Sponsorship goes one important step further.

Emily Nerland, Vice President of Global Sales at DNS and enterprise networking company, NS1

Emily joined NS1 from Masergy, where, as Managing Director for EMEA, she was responsible for growing the region through direct and indirect channels by leading the go-to-market team to deliver on the value proposition of the organisation. She was appointed to this role after having built the partner community as the Director of Channel at Masergy. Prior to this, she held a number of roles at TalkTalk Business, culminating in her appointment as account director for international carriers. Emily holds an MBA in marketing from University of Georgia – Terry College of Business, an M.A. in journalism from University of Southern California and a B.A. in psychology at Dartmouth College.

A SPONSOR IS SOMEONE WHO WILL PUT THEIR REPUTATION ON THE LINE TO PUSH YOU UP THE LADDER.

They have you in the back of their mind when they are networking and will be quick to recommend you to peers, colleagues and friends.

Sponsorship is often organic, growing out of a relationship in which the sponsor recognises potential in you that you might not even recognise yourself. As a result, sponsorship represents a true belief in your abilities.

Having a sponsor is invaluable, but finding one means putting your faith in those around you. Many mentorships and sponsorships start with someone asking for help or guidance. It could be from your line manager, someone in a different department, or even outside the company. In fact, the best sponsors often don’t work with you, so they can assess you objectively outside the context of your job.

People are more willing to help than many of us realise and are complemented by having their opinion sought. But to help a relationship grow into sponsorship it’s important to be crystal clear about what interests you and what you are looking for in your career. If you know where you are heading, others can smooth your path.

Trust is a huge element in winning sponsorship. You must put your trust in the potential sponsor to take you seriously, understand your aims and speak on your behalf. The biggest trust though comes from the sponsor. They are putting their professional neck on the line every time they advocate for you, so you must show up, be consistent, be authentic and most of all, be good at what you do.

I have been fortunate enough to have a number of great sponsors in my career, but one example in particular stands out. As a Canadian, I required a visa to stay and work in the UK. At one point in my career my visa was at risk, and I had reached out to my network for help. One person in particular, who so strongly believed in my abilities, stepped out on the ledge to put me up for a role that would secure my visa and time in the UK. Whilst the business worked to secure my visa I had to return to Canada for approvals. In that time that business was acquired, and the end result could have left me jobless and stranded back in Canada. Incredibly, I had multiple influential sponsors within the business who fought to ensure that I was not lost in the mix and was picked up as part of the transaction as well. If I did not have those people in my corner, actively speaking on my behalf (and totally unbeknownst to me), I would not be anywhere near where I am today.  Since then they have encouraged me when he didn’t think I was aiming high enough and given me honest feedback when I needed it to take the next step.

I’m now taking on that sponsorship mantle myself. I ask both women and men both on my team and outside my company to be vocal, tell me what they want and what they are doing. I find the men, generally, are good at telling me without being asked, more often the women need some encouragement. As a result, I try to actively build up the women who might need the extra context or conversation and make myself available to those who seek to be pushed in the various ways they want to grow their career. I believe it takes two to have these relationships, so I don’t try to push it.

However, for myself it has been – and continues to be – so valuable in my career to have those people who can see more for you than you might even see in yourself.

Having a sponsor can transform your career but only if they know where you’re going.

Be open about your ambitions, show how good you can be and listen to what they tell you. If you want their commitment to supporting you, demonstrate your commitment to meeting their expectations. Then you will both enjoy the outcome.       

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