Sponsoring women business leaders: Q&A with Martine Liautaud

Kristin Nelson
Posted by Kristin Nelson
Wealth Management Strategy

My last post was about learning from women business owners, and this post is an example of doing just that.

Head shot of Martine Liautaud.Martine Liautaud, a successful entrepreneur and chair of the investment bank Liautaud & Cie, is one of the founders of the Women Business Mentoring Initiative. I was lucky enough to meet her last year at the BNP Paribas Wealth Management Executive Program for Women Entrepreneurs at Stanford University, and her experiences and wisdom have been very instructive for me.

Martine has been a major champion of mentoring women business owners, and her new book, “Breaking Through,” details best practices that have helped women leaders succeed. In this brief Q&A she shares some of those principles that may benefit others.

Q: Your book talks about the value of mentoring but also sponsoring. What is the significance of sponsoring, especially for women business owners?

A: Sponsoring is a step beyond mentoring – it’s mentoring taken to the next level: the sponsor champions the mentee, suggests and supports their promotions, puts them forward to positions of responsibility, and, especially for entrepreneurs, opens doors, acts as a reference, uses their network to create opportunities, and then supports them to take these opportunities. In sponsoring, sponsors risk their own reputations and effectively put their necks on the line.

How has sponsoring benefited your career?

I am a good example of a woman who has benefited from embracing opportunities, facing challenges, and getting support from professional networks. It is true that my successes throughout my career must also be attributed to those who have supported me, inspired me, and opened doors for me.

When I started out as a banker, leaders of the bank encouraged me to challenge my male colleagues, and they gave me some very leading missions at an early stage.

Later on, when I was learning the trade in the advisory field, the confidence of clients such as Francis Bouygues, a construction industry tycoon, or Serge Kampf, founder and CEO of Capgemini, allowed me to succeed rapidly in a very competitive business. This was sponsorship at the utmost!

I would never have been able to succeed without them – and I am eternally grateful. I believe in mentoring, networking, and sponsoring because I’ve benefited from them myself. It is the responsibility of all business leaders – women and men alike, who understand the power of mentoring and sponsoring — to support women in their careers and business endeavors.

Can you touch on the importance of women sponsoring and mentoring other women, versus women being sponsored and mentored by men?

Honestly, I don’t see much difference in the results. At the Women Mentoring Business Initiative, the mentoring franchise I launched in 2010, our mentors are both men and women, even though we only mentor women. Men and women may have different ways of mentoring, but it’s more due to their own career path than to gender specifics. In any case we need men because women entrepreneurs who could act as mentors are much less numerous for obvious reasons.

Moreover, there is a positive side effect: men who mentor women are more conscious than their counterparts of the obstacles that prevent women from succeeding in the business world, and particularly of the negative stereotypes they are confronted with. Accordingly, they become strong advocates of women entrepreneurs as well as very active and successful sponsors.

From your work, what principles or habits have you noticed that successful women business owners/entrepreneurs share in common?

Successful women share three essential qualities: ambition, leadership, and vision. In addition they have overcome at least three obstacles that hamper women in their business career.

The first obstacle is lack of confidence. Too often, the cultural and educational environment convinces girls that they are not made for business or success. Brigitte Grésy, a French expert in gender behaviors, used to say: “Our society teaches boys to dare and girls to conform.” Self-confidence is key because it is the first step. If you believe that men are better than you, you start at a disadvantage that will be the most challenging obstacle you’ll have to face.

Secondly, women do not use networking as they should. Men network naturally when women are reluctant to use such a tool, probably because they don’t like to be put in the limelight, but above all because they have less time than men to socialize.

And the third obstacle is that they are often shy with money. You need cash to start or to develop a business, but usually women tend to be adept at financial prudence and consider indebtedness as a risk rather than just as a means. It’s too bad for them, and for their banks also!

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