Guest blog by Suki Collins, Executive & Leadership Coach
There is a lot written about workforce inequality, equity, diversity, and inclusion. It appears that there is discrimination from recruitment to pay gaps and barriers to progression, from bullying and harassment to exclusion and inequality in social networks and across all strands of diversity.
The moral imperative for increasing workforce equity, diversity and inclusion is clear. However, it is not clear what strategies and practices are the best interventions for increasing workplace diversity and inclusion.
Even if we take a systematic and comprehensive view of scientific research, it is difficult to establish ‘best practice’ because employers need to consider their context and their culture.
Coaching can be used for changing behaviours in the long term
A 2017 meta-analysis of nearly 500 implicit bias studies found that traditional training used to correct underlying biases rarely result in long-term behavioural changes. While leaders who are sent to implicit bias training sessions leave with a heightened understanding that biases exist, they often lack the tools to take sustained corrective action. As a result, leaders revert to the status quo as they have not contextualised this in their organisation.
I found that when combined with other EDI efforts, coaching is a powerful and effective method that helps leaders and managers arrive at their solutions instead of being told the steps they should take. The International Coaching Federation (ICF) defines coaching as “partnering with clients in a thought-provoking and creative process that inspires them to maximize their personal and professional potential.” With coaching, the leader — or any coachee — sets his or her agenda and desired outcomes, and the professional coach ensures accountability every step of the way.
A coaching approach to inclusive leadership development frames the conversation differently than traditional training because it is empowering and leader-focused. Leaders set their own individual goals around EDI and learn to build capacity instead of dependency when it comes to identifying their solutions to common EDI and other workplace challenges. The awareness and desire to change is a powerful “Aha!” moment that occurs as the result of a coach’s active listening and probing questions and the change is transformational.
Coaching Underrepresented Employees
UK employers embrace positive action to present candidates with a ‘level playing field’ by identifying and removing barriers and issues to the recruitment, retention, and progression of employees from ‘underrepresented’ groups.
The unique nature of coaching can help elevate underrepresented employees, who often experience an “emotional tax” in the form of a heightened sense of guardedness against bias, in addition to managing everyday organizational stresses. Related to the emotional tax, underrepresented employees often face challenges related to trust, inclusion and job satisfaction that can harm their emotional well-being. These issues also put them at risk of becoming disengaged or even deciding to leave the organisation.
Coaching has proven to address and mitigate such challenges. Organisations that strive for a high-performing coaching culture should also ensure that their register of experienced coaches includes coaches who understand the unique challenges and experiences that underrepresented employees face. The coaching relationship allows employees to address these difficulties holistically. Managers can also become aware of issues that have gone unaddressed from their perspective. It’s important to note that managers should allow employees to select their coaches.
Coaching to Confront Bias
The traditional methods of diversity and inclusion training organisations invest in to cultivate leaders proved a mixed bag. Leaders leave with awareness but not the skills to make changes. I believe pairing coaching programmes with EDI programmes will lead to more sustained results. Coaching, which high-performing organisations make available to managers and employees at all levels, can strengthen the muscles needed to create inclusive workplace cultures and boost engagement from all employees.
Coaching can strengthen the muscles needed to create inclusive workplace cultures and boost engagement from all employees.
In conclusion, we all know that coaching is about accompanying and facilitating – not providing road maps or solutions for people. That said, in heightened times of social injustice, it is easy to get sucked into the dreaded drama triangle in which we intervene to rescue or feel better about ourselves, particularly when we see ourselves as part of the problem. Guilt, good intentions, or a desire to effect positive change can all propel coaches into wanting to ‘rescue’ and ‘solve’ instead of facilitating discovery and growth. It is not our role to tell our clients how they should be showing up, or what they should be doing, in terms of diversity and inclusion. This may not be the coachee’s desire. And as coaches, we must respect their agenda and their timing. We must take a supporting role, not the lead role.
As coaches, we understand the importance of creating safe spaces for our clients, and we do need to be mindful of opening space for diversity and inclusion issues. But coaching is not just about opening space – it’s about being brave. And as coaches, our bravery comes from understanding ourselves, our privilege, and our vulnerability. We have the flexibility to move from a safe space to a brave space.
Suki Collins is a Global 500 Influential Leader award-winning Business Coach and an accredited Executive Coach. She has had over 20 years of experience at the senior HR management level. She practices a coaching style of management and has seen the difference coaching can make to an individual, a team, and the organisation.
On an organisation level, she was responsible for establishing a Medical School in the United Kingdom. Currently, the School is in the top 5 Medical Schools in the UK. She coached senior leadership to utilise HR tools for ensuring performance and fostering a culture of continuous improvement.
Equity, Diversity, Inclusivity (EDI) and belonging are at the heart of everything Suki does.
Suki is the Founder/Director of Pebbles Coaching and Wellbeing Consultancy, established in 2020. Her company aims to provide coaching to individuals, teams, and organisations, leveraging the insight of over two decades’ senior management experience within two top Universities and extensive executive coaching experience.
Suki is passionate about new challenges, has a positive outlook on life, and this is carried through everything she does. She strongly believes that a positive mindset can take her through any challenges she faces in life.
You may find these resources helpful:
Event Highlights: Thinking Strategically about Diversity, Equity and Inclusion
Guide for Line Managers: Engaging Leaders on Anti-Racism Strategy