Diversity and Coaching: What do we mean?

CoachHub · 17 February 2022 · 8 min read

Coaching has many applications and an ever-growing one is around diversity and inclusion.

In the past decade, leaders have become increasingly focused on creating inclusive workplaces. In fact, Gallup reports that many organizations are re-evaluating their DEI strategies, hiring for DEI roles, and publicly committing to support more diverse and inclusive workplaces.

Leaders are motivated to foster inclusive cultures not only because it’s the right thing to do, but also because there’s a business case for it. Some research shows that diversity and inclusion initiatives can lead to increased market share, increased productivity and innovation, and better attraction and retention. Additionally, McKinsey & Company has repeatedly found a positive correlation between gender and ethnic diversity on executive teams and financial performance.

Given the clear, data-backed benefits, most people recognize that diversity and inclusion are important, but what does it take to actually build an inclusive workplace culture? And what is an inclusive culture, anyway?

Defining Workplace Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI)

When reading about diversity, you may see the acronyms DEI or D&I, which stand for ‘diversity, equity, and inclusion’, or just ‘diversity and inclusion’. While these terms are now in frequent usage there is still confusion about what they mean. Let’s look at the three terms more closely.

Diversity (i.e. variety) recognizes the full spectrum of different social and demographic identities: race and ethnicity, gender and sexual orientation, social class, brain differences (i.e. neurodiversity), along with things like values and beliefs, plus many other identities. Diversity acknowledges both visible and invisible identities.

Workplace equity

Equity (i.e, the quality of being fair and impartial), is the concept of providing fair opportunities for all employees based on their individual needs. Unlike equality (i.e., the state of being equal), equity is about fairness.

Let’s say you’re at a dinner party. Equality would divide food equally among the guests; equity would give more food to the folks who are hungrier — making sure that everyone is full rather than fed an equal amount of food. In the workplace, equity is often illustrated through “reasonable accommodations.” For example, at work providing steps at the front of the building may be treating people equally, but providing a ramp for colleagues who are in a wheelchair is about providing equality; ensuring everyone can get into the building.

Workplace inclusion

Inclusion is the practice of including and accommodating people who have historically been excluded because of their race, gender, sexuality, or ability. In the context of the workplace, inclusion is how an organization acts to welcome, support, and listen to employees. HBR says that inclusive cultures recognize differences (i.e., colorblindness doesn’t work), actively work to discover common ground, and commit to having difficult conversations with each other.

If a workplace is diverse, it does not automatically imply that it’s inclusive. And if a workplace is inclusive, it doesn’t mean it’s diverse. Organizations must actively work to not only hire for diversity; they must diligently work to create an equitable and inclusive culture. So, how do organizations foster inclusive workplaces?

Diversity and Inclusion in the Coach Community

When we talk about diversity and coaching, it’s also important to examine racial justice, equity, and belonging in coaching as a profession. In a 2021 report, researchers Charmaine Roche, a D&I specialist and Prof Jonathan Passmore, Senior VP at CoachHub, “…argue for a shift to a conscious stance towards race and color [in coaching],” something they see as a prerequisite for moving the coaching movement towards racial justice and equity.

As the industry works to develop more inclusive workplaces with D&I-focused coaching, we also acknowledge the work that the global coaching community must undertake as an industry itself — including our team at CoachHub. Some of our D&I initiatives include annual gender pay gap analyses, hiring of diverse communities, access to gender-neutral bathrooms, and barrier-free offices. We are committed to fostering inclusion but also recognize we also have a long way to go. (If we can improve our efforts, please share your ideas.)

As part of Roche and Passmore’s 15-point agenda, they ask coaching organizations to develop their own DE&I action plans, for coaching service providers to provide DE&I training with a specific reference to race, and for coaches to broaden their understanding of DE&I and social justice, among other commitments. We recognize that our ability to foster DE&I through coaching depends on our willingness to move our own industry toward racial justice and equity, and Passmore is actively engaged in this endeavor working with colleagues at the EMCC and ICF to take forward the wider industry agenda.

Strategies for Fostering an Inclusive Workplace Culture

Although the process of creating an inclusive workplace culture cannot be simplified in a single article, let’s look at a few common DEI strategies. This is a small selection of DEI strategies, not a comprehensive list. Organizations will often use a variety.

A comprehensive DEI Learning Strategy will encompass a wide range of learning modalities or approaches. One of these approaches is DEI or D&I coaching, one type of individualized coaching. What does D&I coaching involve?

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What is Diversity and Inclusion Coaching?

Diversity and inclusion coaching is one way to foster a more inclusive workplace culture. D&I coaches can help employees become more comfortable with conversations and situations surrounding identities and differences — things like race, abilities, and neurodiversity, just to name a few.

ICF Board member and CoachHub coach Kaveh Mir says, “Coaching as a management style can help managers greatly. A manager using coaching pays attention to self-awareness, awareness of one’s biases and emotional intelligence. Self-awareness is one of the critical pillars of becoming a great leader. Self-awareness also allows a better acceptance of others.”

Logistically, diversity and inclusion coaching is typically conducted in a one-on-one setting. Unlike one-off D&I workshops or large group D&I training, D&I coaching is an ongoing process. As a more time-intensive process, D&I coaching can be more effective at creating long-term behavioral change.

Diversity and inclusion coaching certifications

Diversity and inclusion coaches often receive specialized training regarding diversity, inclusion, power, privilege, and oppression. Like traditional coaches, International Coaching Federal (ICF) Certified D&I coaches meet ethical standards and core competencies, but they also receive training rooted in diversity, inclusion, and culture change.

D&I coaching certifications are offered at various levels like the Associate Diversity Coach (ADC) certification and Certified Professional Diversity Coach (CPDC). Depending on the accrediting body, a training path may include somewhere around 60-125 hours of training.

Diversity and inclusion coaching practices

Similar to traditional coaching, D&I coaching is a collaborative process between a coach and coachee (or coachees). The initial phase of every CoachHub coaching relationship involves gaining clarity around individual goals. In D&I coaching, some of the goals will be explicitly connected to DEI.

For example, let’s say a coachee wants to gain skills to better support neurodiverse employees in the workplace. Neurodiverse conditions include things like ADHD, autism, and Tourette’s. With a D&I coach, a coachee could work to improve the company’s hiring and onboarding practices to better support neurodiverse employees. They might practice having accommodation conversations, like discussing noise-canceling headphones to accommodate for noise sensitivity.

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Goals of diversity and inclusion coaching

Becoming an inclusive organization or leader is an ongoing process. Although there are measurable outcomes associated with D&I coaching, there’s no finite end to developing your DEI knowledge. Here are some common goals of D&I coaching.

  • Better understand your identities and the identities of your coworkers
  • Identify biases and reveal blindspots
  • Explore how to overcome biases and blindspots
  • Gain cultural knowledge and build competence
  • Practice having difficult DEI conversations
  • Recognize and work through discomfort
  • Identify strengths and talents to build confidence.

In general, D&I coaches work to create safe spaces where coachees can not only explore and discover their biases, identities, and/or fears, but also work to overcome those to create a more inclusive workplace and/or show up more authentically in their organization.

Reasons to Invest in Diversity and Inclusion Coaching

How do you know if you should work with a D&I coach? Everyone can benefit from building their DEI knowledge, but D&I coaching may be particularly relevant if you want to better understand your identities and the identities of your coworkers. If you’re eager to foster an inclusive culture that’s welcoming to employees with diverse identities, D&I coaching may be a great opportunity for you.

D&I coaching can also be appropriate if you hold traditionally oppressed identities and you struggle to belong and/or feel confident in your workplace. A D&I coach can help you reflect on your identities, recognize your strengths and talents, and help you build your confidence.

Organizations and leaders must actively work to not only hire for diversity; they must diligently work to create equitable and inclusive cultures. Although the process of creating an inclusive workplace culture is nuanced and complex, popular DEI strategies like mandatory leadership training, inclusion councils, and various DEI learning strategies — including D&I training — can move your organization forward.

How will you foster a more inclusive workplace?

Foster Diversity, Equity & Inclusion

Establish an inclusive workplace culture across your organization.

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