You might be forgiven for thinking that ‘coaching’ is the new ‘tech’ – in the sense that there seems to be an endless variation of “coaches”; life coaches, executive coaches, sports coaches, back-to-work coaches, business development coaches...the list goes on. Are these labels helpful? In this article, we answer that question, and we explain what diversity coaching is, and more importantly, why you need to know about it.
What is diversity coaching?
To answer this question, we need to answer the broader question, "What is a coach?" A coach is someone who has trained (and hence has a broad toolkit) to enable behavioural change. Most coaches believe that individuals have the power within them to change and to know what is needed. Coaching is therefore about unlocking that belief within a coachee.
Behavioural Change could cover a myriad of things, hence why some coaches choose to specialise and put a label on the area that they focus on. Now, strictly speaking, these labels are unnecessary. The toolkit that coaches have can cover a range of topics and coaches don't provide answers. They work with coaches to discover their own. Also, certainly here at Client Talk, coaches are human-centred and coach systemically. This means we consider the broader context. So, what might start with "helping me delegate as a leader" could well morph into something else as different elements of the broader context come into play. We could call this executive coaching - or skills coaching - or 1:1 coaching. The truth is in this case the label really doesn't matter at all.
Diversity coaching is similar. In essence, what it is, is harnessing the skills that coaches have to create more inclusive work environments. Diversity coaching helps raise awareness of what is needed to create and sustain diverse working environments. Coaches who have chosen to exclusively focus on this area have an understanding of broader systemic issues and bring them into their work.
What do diversity coaches do?
As you can imagine, a DEI coach might do a number of things. At an individual level, they might help gather insights about how individuals feel about their working environment. Coaching conversations are confidential, but individual conversations can be used to gather themes that can then be played back to the firm or organization. 1:1 coaching can also empower individuals to play themes back and have the confidence to have those difficult conversations. They can also provide a space for leaders who are having to navigate diversity and who want to use their position to drive change in their firm. These conversations can increase self-awareness and think about the individual's own biases and behaviours and the impact that those have.
At a team level, DEI coaching can help firms and organisations have difficult conversations. They can surface the "elephant in the room". This could be through holding a safe space in which to do this, or it could be by providing tools to enable those conversations to happen outside of the coaching space.
5 benefits of diversity and inclusion coaching
You hopefully now have a deeper understanding of what is meant by diversity, equity and inclusion coaching. Below are the 5 reasons why we think your firm needs to know about it.
1. Focus on change
There has been a lot written about the failings of unconscious bias training. Most of the criticism is levied because it has been shown that it doesn’t cause behavioural change. Tickbox exercises rarely work. Indeed, increased awareness of unconscious bias can even be used as an excuse for it.
Coaching is all about generating behavioural change. That is the first reason why we believe diversity coaching is more effective than diversity training, and why our training is always underpinned by coaching. This is particularly relevant when it comes to training focusing on diversity, inclusion and belonging.
2. Increased honesty
Even if you think your firm has a high level of psychological safety, the reality is that everyone experiences an organisation’s culture slightly differently. Also, high levels of psychological safety might exist in certain areas, but be lacking in others. Diversity Coaching can be used to ensure that when difficult topics are discussed they are done so in a way that is non-judgemental, open and managed sensitively. At Client Talk, we also use tools which can help us to surface how employees measure the firm's culture. This can provide deep insight and generate learning as a team.
3. Improved communication and collaboration
There is often a focus on getting diverse talent into an organisation, and this is positive, particularly in firms where diversity is lacking. However, this needs to be accompanied by steps to retain diverse talent – and more than that – help diverse talent thrive. Diversity coaching, particularly in a team context, helps to shine a spotlight on differences (particularly differences that are hidden from view) and in so doing can help teams work more effectively together. It leads teams to appreciate and notice what every individual can bring. This has an impact on how individuals work together - for the better.
4. Enhanced creativity and innovation
As we have shown above, working with a diversity coach can create benefits for the firm at large. By tapping into individual perspectives and increasing self-awareness, teams can unlock new ways of being. This leads to more creative ways of solving problems more generally. For example, we use LEGO® SERIOUS PLAY® workshops as part of our Diversity Coaching. Teams are often taken aback by how collective insights can unlock so much knowledge and this spills over into other areas where they have to come together.
5. Focus on the people who make change happen
Often firms and organisations look to underrepresented groups to “solve the problem of diversity”. Now, don’t get us wrong, having networks is important, but diversity coaching enables conversations to happen across the board, and focus on the people who can make change happen. 1:1 coaching can help individuals explore their own unconscious biases and think about how to overcome them. The honesty that can be reached in a coaching conversation can be key to moving the dial.