On Overfunctioning, Margins and the Functioning Perfectionist

I despise navel gazing. I hate talking about myself, so typing out this blog post has me alternately breaking out in hives, sweating with dread, and cringing in horror. I hate showing my hand, revealing my feelings, and showing my own humanity, so bear with me as I get through this. With the new year […]

Rein in Resentment to Mitigate Holiday Frustration

My husband and I both work in an academic setting so we both do not report to work until after the New Year. Let me assure you: he takes his breaks. Whether it is winter recess, Columbus Day, or a regular old Saturday, when my husband is not at work he is truly not at […]

Doing It All and Failing at Some It

“We are all failing at something.” I happened to drop this in the middle of a conversation with my co-author Markesha and Langley Harper’s owner, Kamela. It was a bright summer day in Atlanta, and we had all converged in a French coffee and bake shop close to Georgia Tech to talk and catch-up. As […]

Why Is Self Care So Hard?

We are beautifully and wonderfully made. It is easy to get lost in thought when you really think about how marvelous the human body can be. Permanent marker is not permanent on your skin. No matter how absentminded you are you won’t forget to breathe. Dimples are adorable but technically a deformity. Our bodies are […]

Natalie Tindall

Are Women Mentored to Death?

Natalie T.J. Tindall, Ph.D., APR

One of the books on our summer reading list was Carla Harris’ Strategize to Win. After months of reading workplace help and self-help books from Ariana Huffington, Sheryl Sandberg, and a myriad of other white female corporate leaders’ take on work-life fit, it was refreshing to read (or at least place on our reading list) a book by an African-American woman who climbed through the corporate America obstacle course to become a vice chairman/managing director at Morgan Stanley.

One of the things that Harris has discussed in her previous work and trumpeted in her speeches is the need for women to have three types of key people in their career corner: an advisor, a mentor, and a sponsor.

These three terms are bandied about in most business, academic, and social setting.  In the academic literature, mentoring is a broad concept that includes sponsorship. As Tindall noted in a previous blog , “sponsorship is a deeper, intense, and targeted cycle of grooming and promotion. The mentor (the senior level person) is valuable to someone’s career progress because he or she provides upward mobility, visibility, and support to their proteges as well as fights to get someone promoted.”

Harris clarified her stance on mentors and sponsors in a New York magazine article, titled It Takes More Than a Mentor to Win at Work:


Markesha McWilliams Henderson, Ed.D.

“A mentor’s job is to give you advice that is tailored specifically to you and to your career aspirations. They do  not need to be within your organization, nor do they need to look like you. But they must understand your context. Some of my best mentors have been peers. Frankly, you can survive a very long time in your career without a mentor. But you will not ascend in any organization without a sponsor. A sponsor is the person who, behind closed doors, will argue passionately on your behalf as to why you should get the great promotion, why you should get the outstanding bonus, why you should get that next-stretch opportunity.”

Academic research has validated this idea of sponsorship. In a 2011 Harvard Business Review podcast and in a 2011 HBR article, Hermina Ibarra found that many of the corporate mentoring programs did not produce their intended effects. Rather than seeing a substantial increase in women being promoted in the higher echelons of the corporate hierarchy, women stagnated and suffered from being “mentored to death.”

This subtle yet distinct difference matters both to women who are aiming to climb the ladder and to those in management who are crafting the programs and building the mentoring relationships with those women. For those women aiming to rise in their careers, here are some questions for you: who in your network can you pinpoint as a mentor, sponsor, or advisor (a person who can be a resource about day-to-day tactical issues or concerns in your current position).

What roles are missing in your current network, and who could fill them? What mentoring and sponsorship relationships have you seen among your peers? Identify the traits and characteristics in those and search for mentors and sponsors who can provide those things for you. For those in corporate America who are helping to support women, here are some questions for you: What have been your experiences with mentoring? Do you want to replicate those relationships with others? What is happening with your women, especially women of color, after their entry into the organization? Are they leaving? Identify the reasons why they are leaving and what supports they need to continue in the organization.