Women need sponsors, not mentors


When Debby Carreau was a rising star in a Canadian food company, the CEO took her under his wing. They used to go out to dinner together when he came to visit his office. She asked him for advice, until one day he asked her, “Why do you need my advice on this?”

She looked at him, surprised, as she realized, “I don’t.”

The situation she was facing was causing her stress, but no matter what happened, she was convinced that she could face the consequences; the worst thing that ever happened couldn’t derail the career she had built for herself.

“I had reached a point in my career where the worst thing that could happen didn’t really matter,” she said. “This is where we have to go. “

Carreau then founded a company, Inspired HR, based in Vancouver, in 2007, and wrote a book, The myth of the mentor. She sees this conversation as a turning point in her thinking. That’s when she started doing what she advises other women to do on her own: own the coin of trust.

There are two ingredients to success, she argues: skill and confidence. Women already tend to put their heads down and become very competent.

“Confidence is more difficult,” she said, pointing to research that consistently shows women are much more doubtful about their performance at work than men. This research has been around for decades and has been the subject of intensive public discussion for the past five or more years.

However, there are still few solutions. Carreau offers two: a change for women and one for men.

What is trust anyway?

The word comes from the Latin root for “to trust”, to trust is to trust that the world will treat you well. Some people are fortunate enough to be born confident and others to have a magical childhood that brings a sense of unwavering confidence in the world. In one of my favorite short stories, Truman Capote A Christmas memory, the author writes: “Anyone who has ever trusted you, you owe them a lot. “

When entering the world of work, many women experience the opposite. They have accumulated a lifetime of experiences that suggest they will often be treated unfairly. It’s the opposite of the system that helps white men see the ladders they’re supposed to climb, gives them a helping hand when needed (and sometimes, of course, brings them down).

Because the steps are not prescribed for us, women develop a ton of courage, which replaces confidence. I think of Danaris Mazara, a baker in Lawrence, Mass. I talked about in New builders, who started his business with $ 37 in food stamps. Halfway through the pandemic, she spoke of facing her fear. She was well trained to do it.

“I think it’s okay to be afraid,” she said. “You don’t know what’s going to happen in the future. I’m trying very hard to… ”she gasped. “Wait and keep working,” she finished.

Mentoring or Mainsplaining?

Courage is a great asset. But confidence, which allows you to lead others, is also essential. How do women take ownership of their journey to trust? This is where Carreau says the key is not to fall for the myth that you need other people, especially men, to get ahead. “Instead of continually looking outside for career guidance, aspiring careers need to realize that they have all the tools necessary to take control of their own careers using their own strengths, abilities and visions for success. Says the introduction to his book.

Mentors have their place – but they are currently overrated, because a mentoring relationship that does not evolve can become a trap for women and a fool for men’s egos. In the pernicious way in which the patriarchy has to renew itself, perhaps this is even why businesses and institutions have turned so strongly to mentoring as a response to the advancement of women. It has not worked well: Overall, the number of women in leadership positions in companies has not budged for years (although the optimists I know point to the recent small movements as signs of dying. ‘hope).

The practical advice for women is twofold. If you enter into a mentor / protégé relationship, make sure it doesn’t turn into an exercise in mansplaining or ego.

And put yourself in situations that push your own limits. Go back to school or take a job that is a few steps beyond what you think you can do. Also develop your self-confidence outside of work. Travel is a classic answer for women – not necessarily for business, but still for building self-confidence. “As a woman, I have no country. As a woman, my country is the whole world, ”wrote Virginia Woolf.

In other words, be aware of the lack of confidence and work on it consciously.

What should men do?

In Mazara’s case, she was fortunate enough to find a mentor who evolved into Carreau and who would call a sponsor. Mazara worked through an organization called Entrepreneurship for All to connect with Frank Carvalho. A businessman himself the owner of a pizzeria, he visited Mazara and her husband at home on Saturdays to teach them how to use Excel and prepare a business plan.

Then Carvalho became a godmother, helping Mazara find funding and actually introduced her to Charlie Baker, the governor of Massachusetts, as she was an example of the power of immigrant entrepreneurship.

She was there, she told me that a Dominican woman had once made fun of herself for practicing her English, standing next to this powerful man like an equal. Perhaps she was even on his mind when, in December 2020, he signed a bill authorizing $ 675 million for small businesses in the state to help them recover.

A sponsor, like Carvalho, is someone who supports you, puts their reputation on the line for you, and sends your investment brief, business plan, or CV to friends formed over a lifetime of access. easy. Lack of sponsors is the reason many women stumble on the last step of professional success. There are a lot of things you can do on your own. But many more women would be successful if more people, especially men, stepped up with real help rather than advice.

“We need sponsors,” Carreau said. Of course, you have no control over whether a man is actively helping. That’s why, for women, the only answer is, “Own the trust coin.” “

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