Why we need more diversity in coaching

Given the current climate, it’s more important than ever the profession isn’t the sole preserve of in-groups and networks, says Salma Shah

Coaching by its nature is inclusive, and any hint of elitism or conscious bias actively goes against its very ethos. However, an uncomfortable truth about today’s coaching profession is the disturbing lack of diversity among professional coaches. It is time for organisations and the profession to hold a mirror up to its own practices and explore ways of resolving systemic inertia and nested barriers.

The contradiction is that coaching is about inspiring people to maximise their personal and professional potential. However, attend any coaching conference and what you will find are the in-groups, the networks, the movers and shakers and the power brokers of the profession. What you will also observe is a distinct lack of diversity. Says one anonymous aspiring coach: “I did a two-day taster of coaching training but just didn’t feel I fitted in. Nobody looked like me or reflected my background and I decided coaching wasn’t for me so I gave up.”

The seismic shifts of major events such as Covid-19 and the Black Lives Matter protests mean the workplace will never be the same again. According to Gartner, in the new post Covid-19 world: “Personal factors rather than external factors take precedence over what matters for organisations and employees alike. Employing such measures can be an effective way to promote physical health and improve the emotional wellbeing of employees.”

Coaching is going to be one of the critical tools for supporting and making a positive impact – a crucial asset in the multi-layered complexities organisations are going to face in their new expanded role. A diverse pool of coaches isn’t just a nice to have, it is and will be a necessity.

Both of these events have affected different segments of the population differently. Openness to support for emotional wellbeing and health varies among different populations. So coaching needs diversity to serve a diverse population.

Six reasons diversity in coaching is vital

  • Diversity in coaching is about understanding the mindset of a coachee within a larger context of culture, religious belief, class and socioeconomic realities, not just the content of their coaching scenario or issue. It’s the recognition that learning is happening at an individual level and in dynamic engagement with a wider system. 
  • A homogenous group of coaches limits the capabilities of the coaching profession, containing it within the parameters of a smaller lens and a particular set of values. The coaching community should instead reflect the variety and diversity of employees.
  • The more diverse the talent pool of internal and external professional coaches, the more likelihood of providing a better match for all employees. 
  • Increasing the diversity of coaches will also help dismantle barriers some employees face when seeking a coach – and contribute to a greater quality of coaching for all.
  • For some people, if they cannot find a coach that resembles them, their beliefs, their culture or other facets of their life, it may delay or prevent them from taking up an opportunity to be coached.
  • According to a recent study by Utopia, ethnic minority individuals feel they have to mask their true personalities at work. A lack of diversity among coaches means there is a real risk a coachee with an ethnic minority background may unconsciously edit which parts of their whole self they bring to the coaching relationship, and therefore unknowingly limit their overall experience.

In the current climate organisations will be looking for innovative ways of approaching equality, inclusion and diversity. Addressing this through coaching training for ethnic minority employees, and coaching training that has a wider systemic inclusion lens, is a powerful way to embed change at all levels. 

We need diversity among coaches so that collectively we can naturally see the world from a wider systemic lens and have the tools to empathise and empower others. An ethnic minority coach, simply because of their life experience, brings a distinct quality to a coaching conversation otherwise lacking. Similarly, all coaching needs a wider systemic lens, and the best way to achieve this is for coaches to experience greater exposure to diversity during training and post training. 

Salma Shah is founder and director of Mastering Your Power