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It’s a job that required new skills, and she said she got it largely based on the trust and friendship she’d built with leaders on her team, who were all men.One of them regularly invited her to go for walks and grab coffee.Unlike mentors, who give advice and are often formally assigned, sponsors know and respect people enough that they are willing to find opportunities for them, and advocate and fight for them.But women are less likely to build such relationships, in part because both senior men and junior women worry that a relationship will be misread by others.“Sponsorship is so often a mini-me — straight white guys sponsoring younger straight white guys,” Ms. By getting to know people who are different from them, leaders can avoid playing favorites — which can happen if sponsorship isn’t done well and which can hurt office morale.One way to encourage these relationships is to have more people at the top of companies who are not straight white men.Some are avoiding solo meetings with female entrepreneurs, potential recruits and those who ask for an informational or networking meeting.“Before, you might have said, ‘Of course I would do that, and I will especially do it for minorities, including women in Silicon Valley,’ ” the investor said.

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On Wall Street, certain senior men have tried to avoid closed-door meetings with junior women.“That’s presented a better working environment.”But elsewhere, men have begun avoiding solo interactions with women altogether.In Austin, Tex., a city official was formally reprimanded last month for refusing to meet with female employees, after he ended regular mentoring lunches with one. “A big chill came across Silicon Valley in the wake of all these stories, and people are hyperaware and scared of behaving wrongly, so I think they’re drawing all kinds of parameters,” said a venture capitalist who spoke anonymously for the same reason.And in TV news, some male executives have scrupulously minded their words in conversations with female talent.In interviews, the men describe a heightened caution because of recent sexual harassment cases, and they worry that one accusation, or misunderstood comment, could end their careers.

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