Legal Career

6 keys to attracting a sponsor: a career-advancing strategy for women in law

Female lawyers are now the majority in Australia – comprising 63% of our law graduates.

Despite this, women still hold only a fraction of influential legal positions. Leaving them out of pivotal decisions and discussions.


So how do we disrupt entrenched structures – to ensure women have a seat, and say, at the top table?


The answer is sponsorship.


We spoke with Ann-Maree David, Ambassador for the Australian Gender Equality Council and Executive Director of The College of Law Queensland, to learn about this career-advancing strategy. 



But first: How does sponsorship differ to mentorship?


Most people understand – or have experienced – the value of mentorship. Most commonly, a mentor is someone of seniority (perhaps in the workplace) who guides and advises someone more junior. 

As Ann-Maree shares, “Mentors will go back and forth with you: they’ll test you, coach you and help you think outside the box to get you where you want to be. 

“A sponsor, on the other hand, is someone who will advocate for you when you're not in the room.”

From salary negotiations to secondments to beneficial opportunities, a sponsor can help progress your career – championing you in places you can’t be. 

“It’s difficult to climb up that next rung on the ladder, but a sponsor can hand you a rope and hoist you up. It makes it so much easier,” Ann-Maree adds.  


6 keys to attracting your perfect sponsor


Sponsorship can boost your career trajectory significantly. However, finding the right fit isn’t always easy.

Ann-Maree shares her six top tips to help with the process:


1. Network wisely


A good sponsor is worth their weight in gold. Usually, they’ll be high-profile people with a wide circle of influence. 

So, look for decision makers with a strong reputation for achieving runs on the board.  They usually command respect  and can be thought leaders in their fields. 

It’s highly likely you already know who many of these people are. 

But if not? Do some research. 

Hunt for the CEO of a company you admire. Deep dive into LinkedIn to find the person behind an innovative idea. Or attend networking events where you can home in on who the crowd is naturally gravitating towards. 

In other words: Think big. 


2. Ask for an introduction


This is a key step. Yet it’s one that many people – particularly women – shy away from. 

Whether that’s due to feeling intimidated or not knowing anyone close enough to the potential sponsor, there’s always a work around. 

Where proximity is a challenge – continue to develop your networks. 

If you’re lacking confidence, try getting to know the person you want to connect with on a friendly basis – before asking for help. 

As always, using your discretion is paramount. Remember to be punctual, respectful, and always act with integrity.

“Be respectful of the potential sponsor’s space, time, and energy. If you’re not, you run the risk of creating a bad impression.

“A sponsor will be putting their reputation on the line by speaking on your behalf. So how you conduct yourself is vital in establishing and maintaining a connection.

“It can be a lot of hard work. But it’s always worth it,” Ann-Maree affirms. 


3. Nurture your network


Women juggle many different responsibilities – especially if there are children in the mix. 

Yet all too often, this leads to important elements of career progression – such as maintaining a professional network – being put on the backburner. 

Ann-Maree strongly encourages women to get serious about prioritising this aspect of their career. 

“Stay connected!  Have that long lunch. Facilitate suburban drinks. Really foster the relationships with people you already know. 

“Because women are busy doing so many things, we forget to tend those networks. Yet they’re an important avenue for career progression – particularly as your connections become influential themselves. They’re the contacts who will get you places.” 


4. Own and showcase your influence – there are no imposters here


The sponsorship journey is not passive. It’s a push and pull process.


As the sponsor is accessing the bank of goodwill they’ve established in their own networks, you need to demonstrate why you’re worth advocating for.


Build your personal brand. Do this by engaging in your working environment, and at networking events. But also, in the digital space.


Update your LinkedIn profile. And spend time showcasing your skills and accomplishments. List your achievements, big and small, joint and solo.


But most importantly? Don’t be shy or modest. Put it all out there.


“Women must overcome this mental paradox of feeling that are “not yet good enough” despite having clear evidence to the contrary. Even today, we still think we need to prove ourselves.


“But why not go out on a limb and say: I’m here. It’s certainly a mindset shift. But I’m sure you’ll be amazed at where it takes you.”


5. Be aware of the impact of any flexible working arrangements


Flexible working options are now mainstream. Women, in particular, are seeking these arrangements to balance their professional and personal commitments. And we celebrate this.


But Ann-Maree notes that it’s also important to consider how remote working can exclude you from corridor conversations and other in-person moments – which are crucial for building connections.


She recommends striking the right balance between remote and office-based work.

To do this you can:

  • Attend social events and training opportunities wherever possible
  • Seek out a mentor or a buddy who can share a broader perspective of the workplace
  • Ensure you are seen and heard in virtual meetings

This way, when opportunities arise your name will be front of mind.


6. Reach beyond the circle of law


Sponsors don’t have to fall within the legal profession. In fact, sponsors from other industries can be just as beneficial in advancing your career – especially if you want to use your law degree in a less traditional way. 

Take entertainment or sports law for example. If you’re interested in these niche areas a sponsor in the field such as a board director could help open exclusive industry-specific doors. 

“Seeking out sponsors from  diverse vocational backgrounds can offer you insights into avenues you possibly never would have considered,” Ann-Maree explains.

“Their gaze is higher and their field of view broader, and from a network perspective, they are extremely valuable in accessing alternate pathways.”


Want to start with a mentor? Learn how to find a mentor.