This week I attended the second annual Wall Street Women’s Forum, conceived by Jane Newton of RegentAtlantic Capital and held at 10 On the Park in New York City. About 100 women in and around Wall Street were invited to this invitation only event.
The theme this year was Claiming Your Seat at the Table, and the keynote speaker was Carla Harris, Managing Director at Morgan Stanley and author of the book “Expect to Win”. Harris, a perennial bull, was an amazing speaker: down to earth, warm and expert in producing sound bytes she refers to as “Carla’s pearls”. She opened with the statement that chaos brings opportunity, and that today’s (chaotic) Wall Street is an environment ideal for promoting one’s own success.
At last year’s meeting, Heidi Miller of JPMorgan Chase discussed how more men have sponsors in their careers than women do, and the important role a sponsor can play on Wall Street. Harris picked up on that theme, advising the group on the distinction between mentors and sponsors and the best way to get a sponsor—you need to ask.
What is a Mentor?
Harris describes a mentor as someone you tell all to: the triumphs, mistakes, trials and tribulations—your real deal. Your mentor must know you very well, well enough to provide tailored advice. He or she does not need to be in your organization, but he must understand your context. Harris’s take is that you can last a long time in your career without a mentor, but you won’t be able to ascend in your career without a sponsor.
What is a Sponsor?
A sponsor has a seat at the table, which means he is senior enough to argue on your behalf “behind closed doors”. You should not tell him the good, the bad and the ugly; tell him just the good. He must believe in you enough for him to spend his precious political capital on you. As Harris sees it, the sponsor relationship is the most critical for your career.
How to find yourself a sponsor? Ask. And if the answer is no the most important thing is to understand why…and then move on. Harris says there are three possible reasons why a potential sponsor will turn you down:
1. -He may not know you well enough
2. – He may not have the clout you think he does, but he doesn’t want to admit it
3. -He may not like you
As she says, if you ask someone to be your sponsor and they say no, don’t waste time feeling down. Instead, your response should be “Next!”
Harris also counsels that early in your career your mentor and sponsor can be the same person, but later you may want to diversify. As you get more senior in your career, it’s ideal to have two or three sponsors in order to cover all your bases.
Stay tuned for more of “Carla’s pearls”.