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Is Coaching The Great Equalizer In The Push for Diversity and Inclusion in Corporate C-Suites?

Organizations looking to diversify their leadership teams are facing the chasm built over centuries of neglect, one they can now close with effective coaching to build a pipeline of qualified candidates for diversity and Inclusion in senior roles.

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A Higher Level of Consciousness

As the world develops a higher level of consciousness and leaders in organizations respond to the deep soulful cry for diversity inclusion and equity, more open dialogues are ensuing on how to make their C-Suites more reflective of the population.

It appears that many organizations have not planned appropriately to diversify their C-Suites.

Many have failed to invest in the development of diverse employees who could one day step into the C-Suite roles. The latest claim is that they are unable to find eligible leaders of diverse backgrounds to promote into those roles.

It seemed to have never entered the minds of these leaders to develop a strategy to ensure their leadership is more reflective of the population they serve. Even industries with predominantly diverse employee base such as education, health care, and the service industry are not prepared to move diverse leaders into leadership roles.

Difficulty Finding Future Diverse Leaders

As I listened to the feedback from leaders who attended the Canadian Congress on Inclusive Diversity 2021 conference I participated in, it became apparent that the fastest way to resolve this issue is to focus on coaching and mentoring for mid-career professionals from diverse backgrounds.

The fact that we are having this conversation is a sign of failure on the part of those in leadership. Failure to pay attention to the changing demographics of a changing society, and failure to develop strategies to address the changing landscape with diverse representation in their decision-making and leadership roles.

Diversity Inclusion is Tied To Corporate Success

If organizations want to thrive and be competitive in the changing economy, they must think big. Big in this instance, means diversity and inclusion from the C-Suite down. The argument for diversity and inclusion is of fiscal and financial importance to companies looking to get ahead in an economical downturn. Having diverse minds in your leadership roles can be especially important as we wrestle with rebuilding the economy after covid19. A 2015 McKinsey study, organizations with ethnic diversity out performs the national medium by up to 35%.  

With the rapid change brought on by the global pandemic, there is little time left to prepare for the realities of this decade. The added changes brought on by COVID-19 has exposed the need for organizations to respond quickly to meet these needs. More than ever, they need creative solutions to quickly address diversity and inclusion voids in C-Suites to boost their brands and gain merit with consumers, who are increasingly more likely to research the brands and tell others why they choose to do, or not to do business with.

What Created A Gap in Diverse Leadership Roles?

You may be curious to understand why there is even a gap in diverse leaders, and how we got here. This is not an accident. It took centuries for us to get here but we do not have to take a hundred years to fix it. Please indulge me in the scenario of Joe and Harry below as I try to explain what I have been observing. 

  1. The lack of equity – Having equal opportunity is not the same as realizing equity. Let us look at Joe and Harry’s example both from middle class families. Joe is white male with extended family and Harry is a second generation immigrant visible minority group with no extended family. They both started grade school the same year and they attended the same school and were in the same class with the same teachers until university, where they took the same college major and graduated the same year with their college degrees. While Joe got to go to summer camp and had a nice summer job with his uncle who is an executive, Harry spent his summer days working at the docks for a few dollars he brought home to earn pocket money. Joe learned how to use the computer and how to read plans and got experience with practical science applications. Harry worked odd jobs to earn extra income in College. When they both applied for the job that required computer skills and an ability to understand computer science, Joe was given the job because he had opportunities that Harry did not. Though they had the same education, age and College degree, Joe had an advantage based on his family’s socioeconomic status. They had equal opportunities but not equitable preparations.
  1. Lack of preparation – Harry was not prepared to land a job that needed computer skills and the ability to understand science. Although he had an equal opportunity to apply for this job as Joe, he was not prepared by his life and family background for such a job. A college degree was not enough preparation to land that job.

The Glass Ceiling Effect– For too long, being a C-Suite leader has been only accessible to white males. Women and people of diverse backgrounds have not been invited. There is a subtle message sent that they do not belong or could not cope. On rare occasions when a woman or a person of a diverse group were allowed in, they lacked the right preparation, and as such were not set up for success.

Using Coaching To Boost Equity at Work

The easiest and fastest way to boost diversity inclusion in the C-Suite is by promoting equity, which will allow more women and individuals from diverse groups to be successful in these positions.

Coaching is known as one of the most strategic processes for growth and development. Though leadership and executive coaching are now mainstream, there is room to expand access to coaching in organizations to invite and prepare a larger pool of prospects for the C-Suite.

Why Coaching?

Coaching has been proven to be a process that unlocks a person’s potential to maximize their performance. It is helping them to learn skills, tools, and resources they can apply to their lives or situations. 

Coaching views each individual as having a potential to learn and develop to change their perspectives and situation rather than being told what to do.

Coaching is a highly developmental process that heightens a person’s awareness of how they think, so that they become more self-aware, self-correcting, and self-directing. 

The Equalizing Effect of Coaching

While women and people of diverse backgrounds may have the same opportunities to apply for the same roles, like our example above of Harry and Joe, coaching will prepare them to succeed faster and will provide them with the knowledge and skills to maintain their success.

The coaching Joe received from the family business and social exposures at camp with other students in his socioeconomic status gave him a head start above Harry. This is no one’s fault but it is a reality of our world. 

Organizations that say they want to hire more people of diverse groups into their C-Suite but cannot find them are not looking in the right places. Their vacancies are not getting to Harry at the convenience store. Harry is looking at opportunities to get ahead in the convenience store sector because it is familiar, and he feels safe there. He sees fewer obstacles in his path to succeed in the grocery selling sector, he feels a sense of comfort in that culture. He does not feel alone in the sector, he is not watched, studied, and analyzed in that sector. No one is waiting for him to mess up or fail in that culture, and no one there believes he got his job because of affirmative action mandates.

The Power of Coach to Shift Mindset

Here’s how working with a coach can help Harry. In coaching, Harry permits himself to become aware of and contemplate working in other sectors besides grocery. He begins to learn more about his abilities and his brilliance. He challenges himself to learn new skills and expand his job search. He learns about head hunters and recruiters and starts having conversations with them. He gets coached for interviews with big firms in industries he did not have the confidence and knowledge to approach on his own.

By working with his coach, Harry becomes more self-assured, self-aware, and self-directing. He learns that believing in himself and his abilities is his number one priority. As he does deeper work with his coach, Harry begins to dream of a future that includes being in the C-Suite of a fortune 500 company and begins to set himself up to speak, act and dress in a manner that shows confidence in himself and what he brings to the table. Harry begins to see that his summer job at the local grocery during his College years provided lessons that apply to his future career goals. He recalls the lessons of innovation, resilience, and creativity that was fostered and begins to draw on that wisdom for his future success.

Preparing C-Suite Leaders To Work Well With Harry

Organizations looking to make the C-Suite more diverse and inclusive should not expect Harry to make all the changes and mindset shifting. There are many times the mistake is made of assuming that Harry would be welcome into the fold only to result in his failure because he was placed in an environment that was not conducive for his success.

The organization should also employ coaching to create an atmosphere that is receptive, inviting, and non-threatening for Harry. Too often Harry is left to do all the adaptation, changes and growth and his colleagues feel threatened, alarmed, and worried by the appearance of Harry. Harry is seen as a threat to their normal. They feel uncomfortable interacting with Harry, and their job insecurities become a barrier to a good working relationship.

With the proper employment of coaching, Harry’s team would be allowed to express their concerns, fears, or uncertainties, ask questions, or just face some of their discomfort with people like Harry in a safe place. This would allow them to challenge their biases, learn new ideas, gain new perspectives, and develop themselves and gain their own mindset shift. Coaching would eliminate and prevent much discomfort, unease and micro-aggression that could result in Harry feeling like an outsider, or his team members being found guilty of expressing exclusionary or racist behaviours.

Global Pandemic Brought a Shift In Culture

The 2020 global pandemic has shown us that much of what we took for granted is of much greater importance. It has also shown us that more is to be done on all levels to bridge racial inequity, close the chasm, and create a more inclusive society. While Harry and Joe had the same opportunities, the circumstances of their socioeconomic realities are such that Joe is fundamentally more well prepared for success than Harry in some areas. 

We must fill the voids to bridge the gaps that were inherited from four hundred years of systemic racism. It may mean that we embrace coaching as a strategy to develop those who have been left behind by a broken system, as we create a more equitable future for all.

We are exploring this topic in our next information session. Share your voice and lend your ideas as we explore this topic. Register here

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