Women face a variety of obstacles when trying to cultivate relationships with potential sponsors. Some are based on women’s actions (or lack thereof), but others stem solely from misconceptions and false assumptions.

An Invitation to the Party

Women are making gains in both middle management and senior management, but continue struggling to reach the very top. Part of this is because women feel that they need an invitation to the party.

Hard work is a vital part of cultivating sponsorship, but it’s equally important to put yourself out there. If you passively wait for a sponsor to notice you and offer to advocate for you, you’ll be waiting for a long time.

This goes so far that women avoid male-dominated industries for fear of not being welcomed.

Cashing in on Relationship Capital

If you read my last blog in the series, you’ll know that men and women view relationship capital differently. Men are more comfortable asking for favors, even without first establishing a relationship.

The problem is that women still feel uncomfortable cashing in on relationship capital, even when they’ve done favors for those same people previously. Experts say it’s the fear of being seen as “self-serving” or simply the fear of being rejected.

Getting ahead based on “who you know” is often seen as a dirty tactic. However, hard work alone doesn’t guarantee that women won’t be passed up for promotions and pay raises they deserve.

There should be no shame in having the confidence to demonstrate your recent successes, beginning the conversation about career sponsorship and advocacy.

Inappropriate Perceptions

Because men tend to have more authority and seniority in the workplace, it’s often an older, married man who is the prime candidate for a younger female’s sponsor. In fact, 46% of women in one survey would prefer a male sponsor, largely because they see that men are better connected within the company.

Unfortunately, a legitimately professional relationship with a sponsor can turn to gossip, being misinterpreted as a sexual relationship.It’s this fear of gossip and judgement that often hinders sponsorship. Both highly qualified women and men in senior positions try to avoid behavior that could lead to speculation. For women, co-workers could accuse her of trying to “sleep her way to the top.” But any unfounded rumors could harm a senior man’s reputation, as well.

Even something as simple as advising a woman on her workplace appearance can be misconstrued. There is a fine line between unsolicited advice and legitimate guidance on how leaders present themselves in the workplace, but it’s a line sponsors are expected to walk. It’s simply like saying, “You’re someone I really believe in and I plan to advocate for, but I want others to see you that way at first glance.”

Truth is, many of the obstacles women face in cultivating sponsorship could be solved with proper communication. Let’s all vow to start those conversations so women can earn the sponsorship that’s well-deserved.