Our Insights

An Inclusive Executive Coaching Framework

“It’s not our differences that divide us. It is our inability to recognise, accept and celebrate those differences.” – Audre Lorde

Authors Dr Manjari Prashar & Dr Doyin Atewologun

As executive coaches we have struggled to persuade many colleagues to actively incorporate approaches that recognise, integrate and leverage ethnic, racial and cultural differences in their coaching approach. In light of the recent race relations incidents in America and the impact of COVID-19 on minority ethnic communities, it’s time to talk about race at work. In this moment of collective reflection with a global focus on positive social change, Delta Alpha Psi, as Leadership & Inclusion experts, offer a framework for inclusive executive coaching. The framework builds on our practical experience and academic research on bias, intersectionality, race fluency, among others .

The coaching industry is estimated to generate over $2.3 billion USD with over 53,000 coaches worldwide, 80% of whom believe that coaching can influence social change. Organisations frequently engage coaches and career counsellors in programmes that aim to meet specific Talent Management and Diversity and Inclusion (D&I) objectives.

The positive impact of executive coaching on women’s career development is now widely accepted. Consensus regarding the potential impact that coaching can make on the career development of minority ethnic talent and on social change for racial equality in larger society lags behind. Our research has shown that organisations are more comfortable talking about gender than they are talking about ethnicity, and our work with clients shows that this discomfort plays out in executive coaching.

What is executive coaching?
According to the Association for Coaching, “coaching is a collaborative solution-focused, results-orientated and systematic process in which the coach facilitates the enhancement of work performance, life experience, self-directed learning and personal growth of the coachee.” Executive Coaching is different from other types of coaching as it specifically focuses on senior management engaging with complex issues and vulnerabilities around leadership identity, authenticity, organisational politics and work/life integration. The starting point for effective coaching is confidentiality, trust and the psychological safety required for an honest discussion.

What happens when people with different identities are in a coaching relationship?
Without explicit awareness and intervention from the coach, the power dynamics prevalent in our society may also play out in the very intimate interaction between coach and coachee, particularly when the interaction is across difference. Low intergroup contact and limited race fluency can prevent recognition and deep exploration of a coachee’s experiences as the target of unconscious bias or microaggressions, some of the challenges research shows minority ethnic professionals are more likely to grapple with than their white peers. Rather than engaging in meaningful conversation, both parties, coachee and coach alike, might hold back (i.e. wear a mask) and miss out on the potential value of executive coaching in such circumstances.

What is an inclusive coaching framework and why do we need one?
We use the example of race and ethnicity to summarise the dangers of the prevailing executive coaching processes which can overlook the social dynamics of difference. We propose an inclusive executive coaching framework leveraging intersectional and cultural intelligence.

What are the competencies for intersectional and cultural intelligence?
Executive coaching with intersectional and cultural intelligence requires coaches who can deliberately step back from the prevailing cultural norms and their own implicit bias to explicitly engage in non-judgemental conversations that acknowledge the complexities of minority experiences to propel their ambitions. In other words, culturally competent coaches can remove their own masks and enable their coachees to do the same. They understand and acknowledge social power dynamics, make an honest connection, establish deeper trust and create a psychologically safe environment across difference.

With many organisations kickstarting their journey towards equality and inclusion, especially for black colleagues, now is the time to review how you support the experiences and progression of your diverse talent. Contact Senior Managing Consultant and Executive Coach, Dr Manjari Prashar manjarip@deltaalphapsi.com, to find out how culturally intelligent coaching can help.

About Delta Alpha Psi.

Our team of inclusion experts is ready to support you to further explore ways you can accelerate your D&I and talent management strategy. Delta provides evidence-based, bespoke solutions for diversity and inclusion business needs. We offer research and business insights, inclusive culture ‘building blocks’ through virtual and in-person workshops for workplace groups across the business, ecosystem programmes to embed change for meeting strategic D&I objectives, and culturally intelligent executive coaching. Let us help you keep your people development and D&I strategies on track with our digital and live virtual learning solutions.

Look up our Open Mind Series, where we provide other thought leadership insights and evidence-based webinars on the key business challenges in diversity and inclusion today. See our recent article: Why Target Your Leadership Programmes?

Image by Aleksig6 – Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=90904199