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Price met her sponsor, Graham Cowley, in 1999 when she was
working as a lawyer in his small firm. She says they never had a
formal conversation around sponsoring, but Cowley was incredibly
well connected and very good with people.
"He was always handing me business cards and saying, 'Give
them a call; I was talking about you to them.' I got the sense
consistently that he promoted me in a positive way. It wasn't just
me, he was always empowering people to enable them to do their
thing, not with him or for his benefit, but for theirs," says Price.
It was Cowley who put her name forward to be a partner and
later, her first board position. Even after he'd retired, Price would
still get calls from people who had been recommended by Cowley.
"Sponsorship relies on the sponsor seeing something in you -- but
also on their generosity to extend into their network." Price thinks
it requires a particular kind of individual who is confident enough
not to feel their influence is being diminished by helping others to
get ahead. "When you receive that kind of support," says Price, "it
also motivates you to live up to the praise and expectations."
One could argue that Price was lucky as well as smart. She
happened to be in the right place at the right time to meet the right
someone who saw her potential. But Australia can't afford to leave
workplace diversity to luck.
Widening the definition of what mentoring can be would be a
step to making it more effective, believes Cogin.
"It can be a real developmental role, enhancing skills, a
sounding board, or it can be more of a sponsorship role, drawing
on someone's network, bringing someone you work with on to
a committee. Not just coaching their performance and giving
feedback," says Cogin.
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One reason that mentoring can fail, thinks Cogin, is that not
enough preparation happens beforehand.
"The mentee arrives without having clarity around what they
want to get from the time together. So they go along and talk about
something on the fly rather than work with a mentor on a specific
A successful mentoring program depends on an analysis of needs
at the beginning of the relationship, says Cogin.
"The question has to be asked: what specifically do they need or
are seeking from a mentoring arrangement? If they are looking for
international experience, for example, then how can they be matched
with a mentor who can tangibly help them in that specific way?"
In some cases, Cogin says that the most valuable experience
begins when the formal mentoring program ends and the informal
relationship continues, often away from a workplace environment.
But the fact is, these kind of easy relationships occur more
frequently between men.
"I could identify more of my male peers who have had influential
sponsors than my female peers," says Price. "And there are lots of
social constructs that make those relationships easier to form. The
old school tie network and sporting clubs where men congregate --
and, not surprisingly, those relationships are overwhelmingly white."
The problem with this is obvious, says Price. In these
environments it's much more likely that you will sponsor someone
just like you -- a miniature version to take under your wing.
It raises the question of whether it is possible to create conscious
sponsorship programs at all, or whether it is something that can only
Take the examples of high-achieving Sheryl Sandberg, COO
of Facebook, whose rise to the top was due in large part to Larry
Summers. They met at Harvard and he took her with him to the
World Bank as his research assistant, later appointing her his chief of
staff at the US Treasury.
Loretta Lynch is another case in point. A talented and experienced
attorney, it is unlikely however that she would have become the first
African-American woman US attorney general without the proactive
support of President Obama.
But sponsorship isn't about favouritism, says Price. It's about
identifying and accessing opportunity. Or to put it more succinctly,
she adds: "It's getting people to the start line when previously they
wouldn't have been in the race."
A version of this article ran in www.businessthink.unsw.edu.au
"MENTORS CAN HELP YOU
UNDERSTAND THE UNWRITTEN
RULES, PROVIDE A MAP FOR
THE UNCHARTED CORRIDORS
TO POWER, AND REVEAL 'THE
BUSINESS BEHIND THE BUSINESS'."
JULIE COGIN, DIRECTOR OF AUSTRALIAN
GRADUATE SCHOOL OF MANAGEMENT
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