How I Found True Allies & Sponsors at Work
This is a guest post by The Mom Project Community member and founder of Mommifaceted, Rachel Pierre.
When I first began working I thought I knew it all about the professional workplace. I’d had internships for the federal government and a Public Relations firm during college, so my experience as a new hire wasn’t going to be a big transition, or so I thought.
Twelve years later, I’m realizing that I’m just getting to know the true ins and outs of the corporate world.
I’ve experienced the overlooking, ageism and being left off big projects—only to find out that my coworkers were given opportunities because of access I wasn’t privy to as a Black working woman. It became a game of “who knows who” and “who trusts who”. And as a mom, my limited time just isn’t set up to play the games of climbing the corporate ladder. Becoming a mom has forced me to pick and choose my priorities, which still includes management-level positions and higher leadership at work.
So how can a mom who is juggling two children, a husband and other responsibilities and dreams make it in the corporate world?
Having a mentor is not enough
Relationships have been the only thing that has separated me from the pack and allowed me to be seen by supervisors and offered additional responsibilities or promotions at work. I’ve been able to be matched up with official and unofficial mentors who’ve helped me navigate tricky situations or learn from their experiences. But having a mentor at work is not enough these days. With a mentor, you’ll likely get great advice, but that’s where the help stops.
I’ve heard way too many stories of Black women I personally know in corporate America who have been passed over for jobs or made to look outworked when in reality, people with less experience and education have been praised and promoted.
These stories are helpful to know and allow me to navigate what may be tricky situations, but how can I beat it without a voice that supports me in conversations that I’m not aware of?
How can we move ahead without someone who knows our strengths and abilities, or sees our potential in the rooms where we are not in yet?
Look for sponsors and allies
This is where an ally or sponsor comes in. I’ve found that allies and sponsors are the secret key to being noticed, getting ahead and feeling accepted in the workplace.
A mentor is an experienced and trusted advisor who can help you navigate the workplace and help to understand the responsibilities and expectations of a position.
As defined by Carla Harris, a sponsor is traditionally a person in a position to carry your interest to upper level management and is spending their valuable political and social capital on you and on your behalf.
An ally, while similar, is an active supporter of equity for people of color or disadvantaged communities in an organization. An ally can benefit not just you, but all people of color at an organization.
Both of these roles require walking the walk, not just talking the talk. So, finding true allies and sponsors can be difficult. Many can make a great speech about what they think should happen or tell you about how great you are, but in order for this to be successful, you need people who will put their money where their mouth is.
How to find an ally or sponsor
Here are four steps to finding an ally or sponsor at your organization who can work to guide and support you.
There’s the saying “the squeaky wheel gets the oil” and it applies here. The first step in finding the right people to align yourself with is to let it be known that you’re interested in a sponsor or ally. Many times as women, we tend to develop unofficial sponsors because we just listen and absorb knowledge without wanting to trouble anyone. When I asked for a sponsor at work, I got some great feedback from individuals who would be willing to truly invest the time that is needed to get to know someone.
One of these people became my sponsor at work and we developed a great working relationship. She saw me and spoke on my behalf without me even knowing it was going to happen at the highest level of leadership in my organization. By speaking up, you also avoid the unnecessary awkwardness if you ask too many questions or take up too much time from people.
Most moms have worked that mom intuition muscle from anticipating our child’s next move. Take advantage of this skill in the workplace, too. If you see someone who is willing to stand up for what’s right on other topics, they may be a candidate for a great ally. Look ahead of you, next to you and below you. While you are looking around, check to confirm if they are supportive of inclusive and equitable opportunities at the organization. Do they mentor or sponsor other people of color? Are they educated on the needs of mothers and can speak up when an issue may arise?
Build trust by being trustworthy
Cultivating true relationships through building trust and being trustworthy is a necessary factor in being successful at work, and this can increase your chances of finding true allies and work sponsors or advocates. When your colleagues, supervisors, team members or others truly know the real you, they are more apt to speak up on your behalf.
Question what they say by looking at what they do
Your ally or sponsor might not be the person you expect them to be. For a variety of reasons, the person who has authority or access might not have the time, resources or know how to be an ally or sponsor for you. It’s not necessarily personal, but it’s an important point to note. These people may not even be aware of the discrimination or opportunities for change around them. Always make sure to be open to the possibility that an unsuspecting person in your organization might be a better fit for the job.
Give and you shall receive
At times a sponsor or ally might not be available, but you may be able to be these things for other people. Giving support to others could benefit you in a multitude of ways. Being seen as an ally for others or a sponsor for others can allow you to be seen as a leader in your community. By being an authentic voice at your organization you can set the standard of what true allyship and sponsorship can look like. And others may do the same in turn for you.
About the Author
Rachel Pierre is the founder of Mommifaceted, a lifestyle brand that addresses the unique challenges that Black moms face. As a wife and new mom, Rachel found herself questioning the status quo of what it meant to be a mother and looking for mom inspiration that looked like her. Full time, Rachel works for NASA and raises her two children with her husband in Houston, Texas.