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Coaching for diversity and inclusion

Many organisations are increasing the number of diversity and inclusion information programs, to better equip their leaders as inclusive leaders. Coaching for diversity and inclusion can complement such programs and support leaders, by building upon their own self-awareness and capacity to act. It is not uncommon to have a view of one’s own effectiveness as an inclusive leader, however our actual impact may be limited by our own ‘blind spots’, and the limited feedback which we receive.

Coaching is an effective process, which draws attention to our behaviours, thinking and emotional states, all of which impact our success as inclusive leaders. Reflective coaching conversations can provide leaders with personal insights and feedback, to consider the choices which they need to make to alter their individual impact.

When coaching a leader about their inclusive leadership, a coach can aid them with turning their attention to becoming more self-aware and mindful of their impact. Importantly, a coach’s role is not to tell the leader how to become more inclusive, but rather is to assist the leader, through collaborative, challenging, solution-focussed conversations, with recognising which personal actions would be most appropriate to better enable their inclusive leadership. In such cases, the ‘ah-ha!’ moments which result, are more likely to resonate with a leader in identifying their needs, and form of action to take.

There are many coaching conversations to be held, so where should you start? The two examples of coaching conversation starters below can assist with drawing leaders’ attention to how they enable diversity and inclusion.

Conversation 1: Notice your team

What do you notice about your team? Many leaders believe that they know their team, and engage with them in an equitable manner. Yet how true is this? The coaching exercises below can provide a leader with insights regarding how they are (or not) enabling diversity and inclusion within their team.

Exercise 1: Team Composition

Ø List your team members on a page.

Ø What do you notice about how similar each team member is to yourself in terms of culture, gender, background, working style and experience? Consider the team as a whole. Notice whether your team is diverse or is weighted towards your personal attributes.

Ø Notice whether those who you engage with most often, are most similar to you.

Ø Consider what you know about each team member. Do you know more about those who you engage with most often? How could you broaden your knowledge regarding all team members to better understand who they are, their unique skills and strengths, and what motivates them?

Ø Consider the opportunities which you are providing to differing team members. How many opportunities are falling to those who are most similar to you? How often are you consciously engaging all team members in opportunities to bring out the best in each of them?

Ø Take action – Utilise these insights to consider the team composition. What actions can you take to broaden the engagement and inclusion of the entire team in differing opportunities? How can you generate a dialogue which better informs you about each team member’s interests, skills, aspirations and development areas?

What actions can you take to alter the diversity of your team (and bring in different points of view, learnings, creativity, and innovation)? How might you reshape your team to increase diversity?

Exercise 2: Unconscious Bias

Ø Consider how you respond to your team members.

Ø When those team members who are most similar to you don’t perform as expected, how often do you excuse or rationalise their behaviour? “They haven’t performed at their best, but I know they could do better”.

Ø Compare it to those who are less similar to you. When these team members don’t perform to expectations, how often does this confirm your expectations (or unconscious bias) towards them? “That’s exactly why I don’t tend to get them involved”.

Ø Listen to your language. Is it always referencing the masculine? ‘He’, ‘him’ etc. Consider how you can use language to be more inclusive. Using alternative or a combination of pronouns may generate further inclusivity.

Ø Recognising your default thinking, consider how you as a leader can create the conditions for success for all team members, enabling them to be their best selves within your team. Go back to your team list and turn your mind to how you can bring out the best in each team member. How can you include them in opportunities, to activate their strengths? How can you provide them with feedback and support to advance in their roles? How can you adapt your language so that it demonstrates inclusive thinking? How can you counter your unconscious bias?

Conversation 2: Deliberately seek out difference

Leaders are best positioned to influence which team members have the opportunity to be invited to the table and given a chance to participate. Giving people on the periphery of your network the platform to engage is a powerful tool to enrich diversity and inclusion. A coach can engage in a reflective coaching conversation to assist a leader with noticing how they are seeking out difference.

How might this play out in a coaching conversation?

· Contributions to group discussions: As a leader, notice how often you are role modelling inclusive behaviour by consciously seeking input from team members during meetings. How are you recognising which team members have contributed during a meeting, and which have not? How are you inviting contributions from those who haven’t yet had a chance to contribute? How are you demonstrating respect for these team members by clearing ‘space’ free from interruption, or dismissal by others? Role modelling the importance of seeking opinions from the wider group creates an inclusive environment, where diverse thoughts can be shared. Demonstrating curiosity and inquiry to better understand the insights offered creates a psychologically safe space for others to contribute.

Role modelling communication which moves away from a limited communication style, where people tell each other what they individually know, to a conversation, where team members demonstrate their hearing of differing points of view, will enable the pursuit of a rich, generative, exploratory conversation representing the group’s collective, integrated thinking. This supports diversity and inclusion.

A leader, as a coach, can listen and reflect to the team what has been said, what is not being said and the rhetoric which might be blocking the conversation. By tabling these insights and conversational and behavioural patterns, the team becomes more insightful and enabled to have more open exploratory conversations, which engenders trust and collaboration.

· Speaking panels and team selection: Leaders should run the ruler over the make-up of speaking panels and team selection to ensure the inclusion of diverse representation. Consider how you are drawing your attention to your proposed panels or teams. Do the members all look and sound the same? How might this limit diversity and creative thinking? How might you turn your mind to the composition of the team or panel to consider whether it is reflective of a diverse group, and how might you be proactive in altering its representation?

Supplementing corporate diversity and inclusion information sessions with coaching conversations, will support the development of leaders who turn their mind to the impact which they are having, and their openness for change. These initial coaching conversations can assist a leader with noticing their ‘blind spots’ and their associated behaviours, thoughts and emotional states. The leader is then better equipped, and may be more mindful in making choices to create a more diverse and inclusive workplace. Subsequent coaching conversations can assist with illuminating a leader’s progress against their inclusive leadership goals, and uncover further insights regarding their understanding of diversity and inclusion.


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