How an Unlikely Sponsor Helped Misty Copeland’s Career

Misty and Val Waltz
Misty Copeland and Valentino Carlotti Photo: Joe Schildhorn/

Yesterday Bloomberg Business wrote an article about Misty Copeland and her sponsor, Valentino Carlotti. Carlotti, along with other sponsors, is one of the reasons Misty has been able to ascend to the role of Principal with the American Ballet Theatre (ABT). Yes, Copeland–who lived in a motel with her entire family when she first started ballet–has worked immensely hard. Yes, it took countless hours of practice and blood, sweat and tears to become the third African American female soloist with ABT. But what I find particularly interesting about her story are the sponsors who helped raise her visibility to gatekeepers in her field. As the article describes, Misty was “campaigning for a top spot in the ballet world” when her path happened to cross with Carlotti. Carlotti, a partner at Goldman Sachs Group Inc., began inviting Misty to galas and strategic social events, placing her on the radar of the corporate elite.

As women, especially black women, we often hear the advice that we need a mentor and a sponsor on our team as we climb the corporate ladder. What is a sponsor? And how is that different from a mentor? The Black Career Women Network’s definition of a mentor is a person who guides someone with less experience by building trust and modeling positive and impactful behaviors. A sponsor goes beyond advice giving to advocating for promotion or highly visible development opportunities.

As Misty’s experience illustrates, no one gets to where they are alone, and the support of a key sponsor can open doors that hard work alone will not. All careers require networking and forming strategic alliances, so begin forging those relationships today.

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