Mentoring and Sponsorship: A New Perspective

Earlier this month, female business leaders from across the UK gathered at GRG Executive Search’s Annual Executive Women In Business Event at The Grand Hotel, Birmingham. The event was led by the company’s Director Helen Schwarz, who was joined by three key speakers, Diversity and Inclusion Advisor Sheryl Miller, Patrick Parsons Chief Executive Gail Bamforth, and CFO & Executive Director of Collins Aerospace Claire Bailey. The event included in-depth discussion of three topics: confidence and balance, conscious inclusion, and mentoring and sponsorship. In this article, we’ll be taking a close look at the compelling discussion that took place surrounding the topic of mentoring and sponsorship, and delve into the other topics in posts to follow soon.

Mentoring and sponsorship can have a profound impact on a person’s career trajectory. From helping to navigate unfamiliar business territory to forging long-lasting and fruitful professional relationships, such connections can create an essential feedback loop that leads to continued growth and progression. 

The need for mentors and sponsors remains as critical as ever, and the benefits are reflected in research; mentees are five times more likely to be promoted than their peers without mentors, and employees with sponsors are statistically more likely to receive pay rises and promotions. 

As part of our Annual Executive Women in Business Event, we brought together a panel of exceptional business leaders to discuss three key topics: confidence and balance, conscious inclusion, and mentoring and sponsorship.

Mentoring and sponsorship: key differences

Conventionally, both mentoring and sponsorship refer to relationships within a professional setting between a senior leader and junior employee in the founding stages of their career. However, as workplace dynamics evolve, this definition is beginning to expand to incorporate less traditional partnerships.

Both help organisations to build and maintain inclusive cultures, boosting individual career development as well as leadership succession planning. Sheryl Miller points out, “When we look at leaders, all we see is the person at the top. However, it likely took a lot of people to get them there, such as advisors, managers, coaches, mentors and sponsors.”

Although the terms are often used interchangeably, there are differences between the two. Claire Bailey notes, “Mentoring is often two-way. It might be formal, it might be informal. It’s a learning relationship, focused on developing skills and driving personal growth.” A sponsor, on the other hand, is typically someone who can actively work to open career opportunities through advocacy and nomination for high-visibility assignments. Sheryl explains, “A sponsor is someone who will have your back when you’re not in the room.”

Reverse mentoring: A different approach

Many companies struggle with the challenge of retaining younger talent, and staying relevant to a consumer base with different experiences, and priorities. This is where reverse mentoring comes into play. As Gail Bamforth comments, “The opportunity to be mentored by someone of a different age or socioeconomic background allows you to see the world through different eyes, and that’s really powerful.”

Reverse mentoring typically pairs younger employees with executives to mentor them on topics of cultural and strategic relevance. Claire Bailey comments, “I’m currently mentoring someone in their 20s. It’s fascinating because their mindset is completely different to mine, and I’m learning new things all the time. One of my young team members has also just reverse mentored the CEO of our parent company. The relationship has been incredibly mutually beneficial, and has given my team member a huge confidence boost.”

What to look for in a mentor

The best mentors build trust, are discreet, and respect confidentiality. Mentees should feel able to share transparently, whilst mentors shouldn’t shy away from providing honest critique. Although this can be tricky when both members of the partnership work within the same organisation, it’s possible. Claire notes, “For me, mentoring is all about encouraging candid conversation. I want the person I’m speaking with to simply focus on their own personal objectives and aspirations, which is why I begin by defining our conversations as a safe space. That’s the only way I can provide objective advice and support, and to instil the sense of personal empowerment required to achieve a mentee’s long-term professional goals.” 

Taking the lead for an equal future

At GRG Executive Search, we’re committed to promoting equal opportunities and inclusion. As recruiters, we know we have an important role in supporting an agenda where diversity and acceptance are a minimum expectation of businesses and their leaders. We take diversity seriously and our passion starts from the outset of every campaign. The Executive Women in Business event is just one of our networking events, celebrating and recognising the power of bringing people with diverse experiences and perspectives together. 

To explore how we can support your executive search requirements, please get in touch with a member of our executive team for a confidential discussion or email

Get in touch

We'd love to hear from you.

0121 631 1751

Contact Form

Need help with your search?

Make an Enquiry

Looking for opportunities?

Live Roles