Advocates, Mentors & Sponsors: What Are They And Why Do They Matter?

As the discussion around DEI in the workplace continues to evolve, we hear a lot of jargon and terminology that leaves many of us scratching our heads. That understood it’s very important that we define and clarify the terms we use in DEI so that people know what we’re talking about; as well as why it’s relevant to them. In this podcast episode of Becoming Inclusive hosts Kat Potts and Reggie Ponder take a deep dive into DEI terminology and specific terminology related to “advocates, mentors, and sponsors.” What exactly are they? Do these descriptors apply to me? Should they apply to me?  


In their discussion, Reggie and Kat try to explain the nuanced distinctions and overlaps of advocacy, mentorship, and sponsorship as they relate to driving inclusive and equitable workplace cultures. In Kat and Reggie’s opinion, advocates are champions of change and outspoken individuals willing to help colleagues in situations where peer support is needed. An advocate is a person who’s “in your corner,” so to speak. It can be in support of an individual, company issue, policy, or even a promotion. These individuals don’t only verbally express support they see themselves as highly engaged change agents and generally are willing to take action. 


Similarly, mentors are not too different than advocates but are more focused on helping with professional or personal development. Are they the same as advocates? Yes and no. While an advocate is more of a cheerleader, a mentor’s role is to challenge us as part of that of the developmental process. And as both hosts were quick to point out, mentors aren’t necessarily “one size fits all.” Mentors can come from any age, any experience level, and any walk of life. They are people that can teach us something valuable and have committed to helping us learn. 


Finally, when it comes to our “development team,”  in addition to advocates and mentors, we all need sponsors—people willing to put their names and reputations on the line on our behalf. Kat suggests that people make a huge mistake in confusing mentors with sponsors. As Reggie put it, “Sponsors will actively work toward moving your career forward.” So in those terms and put most simply, all sponsors are mentors, but not all mentors are sponsors.

All in all, this is a very enlightening conversation between two hosts with deep insights into the DEI space. Ask yourselves . . . “Who were my mentors, advocates, and sponsors?” If you’re like most people, you’ll have no problem recalling. Then ask yourself . . . “Have I been a good mentor, advocate, or sponsor for others?” And that’s how we build inclusive and equitable organizations.