These are all great comments and questions I hear routinely in my everyday life. As a chair of an academic department, one of my official responsibilities is to support my faculty, fellows, residents, staff, and medical students. Many take this to mean mentoring: giving advice, using my experience to offer support and guidance, and providing feedback to help my mentee’s personal and professional development.
But, if you ask my faculty and trainees what my role should be, mentoring is only a portion of what they expect me to do. Most, if not all, want to progress to some type of leadership role. Or, maybe they want the top fellowship in the country or to interview at the best residency program in an area where their family is from. Regardless of the exact situation, they are looking for me to be a sponsor. A mentor gives advice but sponsors promote their proteges directly, using their personal networks to place them in leadership positions or committees. While a mentor gives suggestions on how a mentee can expand his or her network, a sponsor gives proteges their network connections and helps make new connections for them.
And, in my opinion, being a mentor is fun and one of the most rewarding aspects of a leadership position. Being a sponsor is much harder—and often uncomfortable—but is one of the most influential things I can do to help those looking for my assistance. Data shows that women and underrepresented minorities have more mentors but are promoted at a far lower rate than white men. According to the Center for Talent Innovation, the vast majority of women and multicultural professionals need support to advance their careers but receive it less often than white males (Published October 9, 2018).