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Diversity and coaching

Claudia Filsinger

Recently, organisations have focussed more on increasing workforce diversity, and many larger organisations have adopted diversity targets as board level strategic objectives. Coaching is often used by organisations as one of the interventions to increase workforce diversity. Common examples are coaching programmes for women to increase leadership gender diversity, often in combination with training and other development activities. The coaching objective is explicitly set to contribute to the organisation’s diversity target (coaching for diversity) and the coaching is typically undertaken by coaches with a specialist diversity coaching practice (e.g. gender, BAME, LGBT). However, this chapter discusses both this sort of ‘coaching for diversity’, as well as the increasing diversity of the coaching field itself, which I will refer to as ‘diversity in coaching’. First, I will explain in more detail what is meant with ‘diversity in coaching’. Then I will evaluate the practice of‘coaching for diversity’. The chapter focuses on coaching provided in a work and career context, but I will also touch on coaching in health and education. Many of the ideas are also pertinent to life coaching.

A typical organisational, pre-millennium coaching assignment might look something like this: an external coach (often a former business executive) working with a senior executive (typically male) in a meeting room during regular coaching meetings over a time span. This is a generalisation, not always accurate.

Today, the field of coaching is much more diverse and one would need a rich collection of coaching scenarios to illustrate today’s more diverse situation: an internal coach working with a colleague in another continent via remote technology; executive coaching taking place during a walk; robotic coaches or web-based coaching apps for teenagers; a teacher coaching their pupil; a health coach working in organisations with employees on giving up smoking or stress reduction; 30-minute one-off telephone emergency coaching available for all employees; a BAME manager coaching their diverse team; an external coach working with a female CEO. These examples illustrate the interrelationship of coaching for increased diversity and the increasing diversity in who is involved in coaching, and how and where it takes place. This has resulted in coaching becoming more accessible. Before discussing how coaching for increased diversity with individuals links to structural banders to diversity in organisations, I shall explore five key aspects of the coaching field that are gradually becoming more diverse.

Diversity in coaching

Both coachees and coaches are coining from a wider range of backgrounds, and coaching is delivered in more various ways. This latter shift includes coaching session lengths and fewer sessions per coaching assignment. Further, the use of group coaching is increasing, making some types of coaching cheaper per head. Consequently, the economics and accessibility of coaching is changing. New opportunities are opening for remote coaching due to technology advances, including robotic and Artificial Intelligence (Al) technology. This widens coaching’s geographical reach.

Before discussing these aspects of changing diversity within coaching in more detail, I want to consider why diversity is one of the emerging coaching conversations.

Table 7. / Five key aspects of predicted diversity changes within coaching

Traditional coaching

Possible diverse future of coaching

1. Coach

Business or psychology background; general coaching training.

Coaches from diverse professional backgrounds; niche coaching training; accreditation; supervision use. Coaches from diverse groups.

2. Coachee

Senior executives; employees with performance issues; knowledge workers.

Clients from all diversity groups including more female, BAME, LGBT and disabled employees, from all life and career stages, including career returners, from a variety of industries and sectors; service users (e.g. health and education).

3. Coaching technology

In-person and some telephone coaching;

New virtual technologies; asynchronous e-coaching; coaching robots.

4. Use of coaching

In organisations; 1:1; external coach; business and executive coaching, multiple sessions; western countries.

Team and group coaching, peer coaching, manager-as-coach; internal coaching pools; specialist coaching offerings; coaching with service users (e.g. patients in health and students in education); global reach; variety of duration and number of coaching sessions including short and one-off sessions.

5. Economics of coaching

Expensive assignments with external coaches; informal purchasing of external coaching; little cost for internal coach training and coach supervision; small group of coaches working with a small group of executives.

Larger coach pool and increased demand for coaching; variety of coaching assignments; costs depending on modality and length of coaching assignments; formal (including some automated) purchasing of external coaching involving procurement department; increased cost for internal coach training and coach supervision.

Organisational clients stress their aim to increase diversity, therefore any coaching, whether or not it is focused on one diversity dimension, must take the issue into account. For example, culture always influences coaching, even if coach and coachee share a cultural background (Abbott, 2010). This applies also to other diversity characteristics of both coachee and coach. If diversity is an important ‘ingredient’ for any type of coaching, it raises the question if the coach needs to be ‘fluent’ (i.e. building up specific knowledge) in individual diversity dimensions (e.g. disability) or if it is sufficient to have a general awareness of how diversity influences their work. I believe any coach must reflect on how their individual diversity characteristics influence their approach and relationships, for example through assumptions or potential stereotypes.

I explore this increasing diversity within the field of coaching later in the chapter and put forward an agenda for the future. First, I want to mm to the practice of coaching for increasing diversity.

Coaching for diversity

By coaching for diversity, I mean specialist coaches working with clients on diversity-related topics such as career development for under-represented employee groups. This takes place in organisations as part of employer diversity programmes, but also in private client career coaching. Often the specialist diversity coach matches their clients’ diversity characteristics, e.g. LGBT and BAME coaches working with LGBT or BAME clients respectively.

Before we explore these practices in more detail, why has coaching for diversity grown as part of organisations diversity management practices and what are the common characteristics?

Kumra and Manfredi (2012) evaluated drivers for increased focus on diversity management. These were, starting from the top priority:

  • • legal compliance
  • • improving business performance by becoming a more diverse organisation
  • • the moral argument, based on social justice and equal opportunity principles

The moral argument is mentioned in several studies as an additional, but not priority driver (Kumra & Manfredi, 2012). However, if these drivers were purely based on a business case and financial outcomes it is questionable how committed organisations would be to them in economically difficult times. Therefore, diversity management and related practices, such as coaching to increase diversity, should focus on both increasing business performance and fostering social justice (Mor Barak, 2017).

Categorising coaching for diversity

Coaching for diversity is often focused on specific diversity characteristics protected by equality legislation. In the UK the Equality Act 2010 protects age, disability, gender reassignment, marriage and civil partnerships, pregnancy and maternity, race, religion or belief, sex and sexual orientation (Kumra & Manfredi, 2012). Most are so called ‘broad-category-based diversity dimensions’ around which diversity management is typically built to appeal to a wide range of employees and to achieve inclusivity, for example, through diversity programmes with a focus on ethnicity overall, rather than offering separate programmes for each minority ethnic group (Mor Barak, 2017). However, if ‘difference’ is too broadly defined the cause of socially disadvantaged groups could be hindered (Kumra & Manfredi, 2012). In addition, not all areas of diversity, for example obesity, are always protected by law.

Another approach to categorising diversity is more individualistic, factoring in any type of individual characteristic, with examples being education or tenure in an organisation. While this is an inclusive approach (everybody in the organisation falls under the diversity umbrella), this has been critiqued: treating all differences as equal can result in trivialising them and to an avoidance of identifying power inequalities and discrimination (Mor Barak, 2017).

Coaching for diversity therefore is affected by two opposing tensions: finding the right focus for diversity management; and the necessary pragmatism to offer viable interventions that facilitate the change needed to increase the diversity of an organisation.

Matching coach and coachee

In the areas of coaching for diversity, many specialist diversity coaches base their practice on their own experience and knowledge of diversity issues in organisational contexts. Indeed, studies on parental transition coaching programmes for women found that coaching approaches include a blend of coaching and mentoring - in other words the coach offered concrete advice based on personal knowledge (Cotter, 2012). Coachees found it helpfill to be coached by another working parent who understood their challenges (Filsinger-Mohun, 2012). Studies in organisational coaching found that matching coach and coachee by shared experience (in professions or industries, knowledge and gender), mainly matters in the early phase of the coaching relationship to establish rapport (Jones, 2015; Wycherley & Cox, 2008).

Arguably there is an important difference between sharing industry or professional experience and sharing the experience of discrimination (which could result in a decision to make invisible diversity characteristics public by ‘coming out’). Therefore, the case to match coach and coachee for diversity coaching programmes could be stronger than for general business coaching. However, this sort of matching when coaching for diversity, questions the fundamental assumptions of most coach training: if we can be coached best only by people like ourselves, traditional coach competences seem questionable. Further, it suggests a power inequality in that there is some dependency of the coachee on the specialist knowledge and experience of the coach that may limit the coachee’s autonomy and the coach’s ability to challenge. This could lead to collusion through common blind spots.

The pitfalls of collusion have been examined in both the field of coaching and coaching supervision. Collusion is defined as mutual self-congratulation that can lead to keeping learning sub-optimally comfortable (Bachkirova, Jackson, & Clutterbuck, 2011; Milne, Leek, & Choudhri. 2009). The cultural context of an organisation can also lead to a risk of collusion, therefore reflection on coaching should examine how the needs of critical stakeholders in the wider systemic context might be creating illusions, delusions and collusions in the coach and even the supervisor (Hawkins & Schwenk, 2011). Further, the coach will need to reflect on their own motivation for the coaching. For example, empathy and assumptions about the client’s needs, based on the coach’s own past experiences of discrimination might influence the coaching through the desire to be helpfill. Bachkirova (2011) explored self-deception in coaching and proposes that some degree of collusion might be beneficial for mutual acceptance in the coaching relationship, but that it needs to be watched carefully. This points to the importance of self-reflection and supervision in this context.

Required knowledge in coaching for diversity

As coaching for diversity grows, so will the variety of required knowledge. At one end the coach will need knowledge of the specific field, as is described in the autism case study later in this chapter. At the other end of the spectrum, early coaching psychologists and counsellors often practiced successfully in industries and sectors they knew little about. The field of cross-cultural coaching helps evaluate the value of matching coach and coachee by diversity. The requirement of having subject knowledge of a national culture (for example a western coach working with clients from Asia) has been debated in the coaching literature. Since it is questionable how realistic it is to fully know or leam a culture (Egan, 2009; Passmore & Law, 2013), several authors stress the importance of considering context and systems for cross-cultural coaching (Abbott 2010; Hawkins & Smith, 2013; Plaister-Ten, 2009). Generally, coaches need to be aware if something is a universal human experience, for example how an emotion is experienced, or culturally specific (Egan, 2009). To perform effectively they don’t need to have experienced cultural adaptation but need to be able to work in diverse settings, know how to leverage cultural differences and avoid cultural misunderstandings (Nieuwerburgh, 2017). In the literature it is proposed that diversity practitioners don’t need to have experienced disadvantage or discrimination to be involved in diversity work, as creating inclusive organisations applies also to diversity work itself being open to everybody. Diversity specialists in a small UK study, suggest personal qualities and work experience qualified them for working in the diversity field rather than characteristics such as gender or ethnicity (Greene & Kirton, 2009). This is supported by the fact that some diversity dimensions may not be permanent, for example disability and age. Further, some dimensions are visible and therefore public, others are invisible and private. Some clients might not be self-aware (e.g. sexual orientation, mental health or culture) or may not want to categorise themselves (e.g. gender). And naturally, an individual’s diversity characteristic will comprise multiple diversity dimensions. Hence even in the context of ‘coaching for diversity’ where specific diversity knowledge can be usefill to align the coaching programme with the respective diversity objectives (e.g. to enable coachees to overcome structural barriers to diversity and to increase the participation of an under-represented employee group), the coach needs to follow good practice and principles of working with an individual. Giving space for the coaching relationship to develop and a focus on listening to allow individual coaching objectives to evolve can avoid the pitfail of the coaching being led by assumptions based on the coach’s own experience and the need to help. If the coach doesn’t share the diversity dimension of the coachee they can still have built up considerable knowledge and understanding through their coaching practice or research. As the debate currently focusses on the coach, it would be useful to research the coachee’s perspective of being matched to a coach by diversity dimension.

To summarise this discussion on matching coach and coachee by shared diversity dimensions and the requirement of specialist knowledge, coaches generally need to be ‘diversity intelligent’ or ‘fluent’, and able to work successfully in diverse organisations. They require diversity proficiency through self-awareness, specialist knowledge for certain types of coaching, and skills to be able to work with and support diverse clients, including the ability to manage any unhelpful influence of their own diversity characteristic such as assumptions or collusion (Nieuwerburgh, 2017). Coaches need to consider their own experience and training and choose theoretical models that are suitable for a wide range of clients when developing their integrative approach to diversity in coaching (Stout-Rostron, 2017). Further they need to have a general understanding of the field of diversity and inclusion management to understand the wider context of their work.

Taking stock - where are we today with coaching for diversity in organisations?

Many authors have pointed out the importance for coaches to consider the wider system they are working in (Hawkins & Smith, 2013; Whittington, 2016). It is important for external and internal coaches in organisations to assess not just their personal diversity proficiency, but also the reality and ambitions of increasing diversity in their organisational context. The degree of ‘diversity maturity’ in organisations is .. . very diverse!

It will be good practice for external and internal coaches in organisations to diagnose the cunent state and ambitions of their clients’ organisational context. Organisations that take diversity management seriously will have audit data and a general qualitative evaluation of their progress in achieving their diversity targets. As policies are only useful when lived, looking at the wider system involves studying the lived experience of coachees within an organisation and its internal groupings.

In the past, organisational goals often focused on improving equal opportunity, an approach focused on sameness and legislation. The more recent approach of diversity management is focussed on difference (Kumra & Manfredi, 2012). Organisations use coaching to support their diversity objectives (coaching for diversity), but the approaches and interventions used are on a spectrum. This ranges from ‘fixing’ individuals (e.g. career coaching and mentoring for underrepresented groups; legislation compliance training for managers to prevent the organisation being sued) to changing organisational culture (coaching and training the whole organisation on increasing diversity; identifying structural and cultural changes, e.g. recruitment and promotion practices). If structural barriers to organisational diversity are not removed there is a limit to the impact of individual approaches that is focussed on the individual can have, expressed well in the much-used metaphors of ‘the glass ceiling, sticky floors and glass cliffs

Organisations that initially embraced diversity and inclusion management focused on gender diversity. Female employees are typically the largest group of rmder-represented employees, and many studies support the business case globally for increasing women’s participation in the labour market, specifically in leadership positions (e.g. McKinsey, 2017). The UK government increased attention on gender diversity to increase the nation’s competitiveness, and multiple reports such as the Davies and Hampton-Alexander reviews have tracked progress of gender diversity at board level (Department for Business, Innovation and Skills 2011, 2015, 2017). Gender pay gap reporting was introduced in 2017 for organisations with more than 250 employees with the resulting need for action-planning to address issues at all seniority levels. In turn, the UK government has made clear recommendations for race equality (Equality and Human Rights Commission, 2017). The design of traditional, linear, organisational careers, and recruitment practices which advantaged white heterosexual men with stay-at-home wives, described as the ‘Organization Man’ (Whyte, 2000), does not just cause issues for women. Where data on the business impact is unavailable, certain groups have received less attention: diversity management has therefore often been equated with gender diversity management. There is a need to expand diversity practice more to all under-represented employee groups.

The following case study of coaching women, a relatively established and researched diversity practice evaluates how coaching for other diversity groups could be organised.

A case study of coaching for gender diversity

Coaching programmes for female staff are typically offered at specific career stages and life transitions. Its initial focus was on offering leadership development programmes to senior women (often the so called ‘marzipan layer’, women one level below the board) complemented with coaching. Research studies investigating such coaching programmes have found wide-ranging benefits for the individual women such as: creating a safe space; increase in confidence, self-awareness and authenticity; reflection on identity, legacy and quality of relationships; building career capital and career progression; (Bonneywell, 2017; Broughton & Miller, 2009; De-Valle, 2014; Worth, 2012).

Organisations increasingly recognise that gender diversity initiatives need to consider all career stages to ensure a healthy talent pipeline. Delamare (2016) explored how a short coaching intervention for female middle managers can help improve the key issue of women’s career progression slowing down markedly beyond mid-level (Department for Business, Innovation and Skills, 2011). Women reported it as a rare opportunity to explore barriers to career progression; resulting in a broader mindset, feeling more comfortable about self-promotion, learning to manage careers as projects and taking practical next steps (Delamare, 2016). Early talent development programmes sometimes included coaching for female staff to alleviate issues rooted in early career behaviours such as women having lower career ambitions and career confidence (ILM, 2011). This concurs with reports from recruiters, of women limiting their job search by only applying when meeting all criteria.

Coaching is also used during life events impacting careers, in particular the parenting transition, as parenting breaks have been identified as career penalties. Maternity coaching developed in response to retention issues and to support the complex return transition after maternity leave. Benefits for employers and employees reported are: building confidence, employee loyalty and retention, sustainable working patterns, long-term car eer development, well-being and performance (Bussell, 2008; Cotter, 2016; Filsinger-Mohun, 2012; Vitzthum, 2016). Critical voices warn of maternity coaching placing the onus on the individual, disguising structural changes needed to improve support of working mothers in organisations (Brown & Kelan, 2013). This is supported by a mixed-method study which highlights the importance of involving line managers in maternity coaching (Cotter, 2016).

Recently, organisations have increased their efforts to retain working mothers by offering more maternity benefits and addressing some of the identified structural and cultural issues. While these benefits are appreciated, they can only partially address the individual and complex issues women encounter upon their return. An action research study, set in two large international companies, showed how maternity-return coaching complements these benefits (Vitzthum, 2016). The findings indicate that maternity-return coaching complements organisational maternity benefits by supporting mothers on an individual level that cannot be addressed otherwise.

Increasingly organisations recognise career returners as a talent pool and offer retumships which are predominantly taken up by women. Usually these programmes are supported by individual and/or group coaching (Filsinger & Gallacher, 2018). As career breaks present identity challenges, adaptability and identity development are important competencies for women returning to work and need to inform support interventions such as coaching before, dining and after career breaks (Majid, 2015). Another emerging coaching practice is menopause coaching (Price & Taylor, 2013) and in the context of modem careers spanning longer and the promotion of active ageing in the workplace (Manfredi & Vickers, 2016), future research could explore gender difference in the transition into retir ement and the potential role of coaching women in later career phases.

In summary, a review of existing research studies on coaching for gender diversity shows it has many benefits at an individual level and contributes to gender diversity objectives at an organisational level, e.g. through retention and career progression of female employees. Structural organisational support alone is limited and needs to be combined with individual interventions such as coaching: these help individuals make sense of complex challenges related to identity and authenticity. Using coaching and mentoring for certain groups simply to ‘fix the individual’, can divert effort from a true cultural shift and real commitment to become a diverse and inclusive organisation. In my view, combining organisational and individual measures to facilitate change is critical for mutual benefit.

Despite these benefits, businesses neglect the moral argument based on social justice for increasing diversity. It seems degrading that companies base environmental coiporate responsibility activities on coiporate values, whereas diversity is driven mainly by the business case and meeting legal requirements. A clear commitment to the moral argument for diversity and inclusion would lead to more focus on all areas of diversity, as it is much harder to dispute the social justice argument than the fast-changing numbers of a business case. Debates currently centre around managing talent pipelines, and the moral argument is often seen as ‘naive’, although it is in line with many of the newer leadership and business models such as ‘starting with the why, authentic leadership, servant leadership, ethical leadership, values- based leadership’. If the arguments for diversity and inclusion could be based more on a real commitment to social justice, coaching for diversity would be not be mainly be offered for an exclusive group of employees (typically senior, ready to move into leadership positions, critical to the company in the shori term), but a wider range of diversity groups to achieve inclusivity at all levels of seniority.

Increasing diversity within the coaching field

I will now return to the five key aspects I set out at the beginning of the chapter for increasing the diversity of the coaching field itself (see Table 7.1).

In the last couple of decades more organisations have put resources behind diversity management and a larger community of full-time diversity and inclusion managers have emerged. Following this growth, what relevant changes can we see that impact on coaching now and in the future? Assuming most organisations will achieve, or at least progress towards, their diversity objectives what are the questions and debates that are emerging for any coaches or coaching types? Organisations are more diverse in terms of their employees, their business models and how they operate (e.g. agile working and increase of freelance workers instead of employees).

/ Coachees

Coachees are becoming more diverse because of changes in organisational practice and external factors such as demographics. In some countries the default retirement age has been abolished. This combined with increasing longevity means that coachees experience more transitions: the cunent three-stage lives (education, working, retirement) are expected to change into multi-stage lives (Gratton & Scott, 2017). Much recent research and debate looked at differences in work attitudes and communication preferences between different age groups. Changes in legislation and organisational practice concerning equality and flexible working regulations, as well as societal changes, have led to less linear careers, including career returns after long-term career breaks.

In parallel, the use of coaching has become more widespread to a larger population at all levels of seniority. This was facilitated by the increased use of internal coaches, manager-as-coach initiatives, team and group coaching and shorter (meaning cheaper) coaching interventions. Consequently, coachees are increasingly informed about coaching as they are more likely to have experienced it already (e.g. during their education) or even have been trained in it (albeit often dining a short coaching skills course). This can reduce the power imbalance between coach and coachee during the contracting phase. Having increased experience of, and fatowledge about, coaching allows the coachee to be more proactive when establishing the coaching relationship and setting coaching objectives with their own coach.

2 Coaches

Coaches that entered the field in the early days of executive coaching often came from related areas such as business consulting, HR, psychology, learning & development. Typically, they were fatowledge workers in the later stages of their career.

Coach training programmes now attract attendees from a much more varied background and a wider age range. The number of universities and commercial providers offering coaching courses has increased, as has the in-house training of internal coaches and staff generally. Many alumni of these courses use coaching techniques in their day-to-day work, often with internal or external clients or service users, such as in education, health, the military and managers-as-coaches with their direct reports.

The need for all involved in coaching to be aware of how diversity informs their work has been discussed earlier. Assessment tools can accelerate awareness and are commonly used with clients. They can be helpful in coach’s self-awareness. A tool that can raise awareness of unconscious bias is the Harvard Implicit Association Test (

Procurement departments are frequently involved in more formalised coaching contracts. Purchasers need to be aware of unconscious bias and diversity dimensions when making choices of coaching providers. Equally, coaching suppliers need to demonstrate not only their ‘fluency’ in diversity topics, but their own organisation’s approach to diversity management. Large organisations demand their suppliers demonstrate they are committed to improve their diversity (e.g. PayPal). Therefore, coaching companies, who typically work with a pool of staff coaches and/or associates, need to practice diversity management actively in their own companies. Besides considering the diversity of the coaches, the diversity of those managing diversity and coaching inside organisations also needs to be considered. A review of small studies in 2009 found an indication that most diversity specialists (who typically commission diversity coaching programmes) within organisations in a small UK sample were white women (Greene & Kirton, 2009). Larger scale studies would need to confirm if this trend has since continued, but it serves as a reminder of the necessity to manage diversity within the wider community of diversity and coaching practice itself (including internal coaching programme managers, coaching supervisors and coach training facilitators).

3 Technology and coaching

This area is treated extensively in another chapter of this book. Briefly, there is a wide choice of technology that supports remote coaching across geographies, including telephone and internet-based applications. Some e-coaching offerings are delivered asynchronously, e.g. by email or texting. This is an established practice in mentoring, e.g. with secondary school students being mentored by business people. Technology advances in the areas of robotics and artificial intelligence (Al) have led to new application areas, and first trials using coaching robots are in place, e.g. computer-based mental health services such as the ‘Woebot’ for teenagers: an automated chatbot based on cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) for young adults with symptoms of depression and anxiety. This is based on research in the therapy field but is positioned to the users as ‘self-help’ which I would align more with coaching. However, one issue that is counterproductive to the diversity agenda is the finding that coaching robots using Al technology tend to replicate biases (Gyton & Jeffsry, 2017).

4 Use of coaching

Coaching is ttsed in increasingly different ways. Short coaching interventions, such as 30-minute phone or web-based coaching on demand, often called spot coaching, popcorn coaching or coaching on demand, are offered more widely. They reflect and support rapid organisational change and agile working, where everything camiot be planned. However, their use needs to be carefully evaluated to avoid giving light touch support when somebody needs a longer-term developmental relationship to achieve transformation. In addition, as they are less expensive they tend to be offered to all employees, while expensive 1:1 coaching programmes are the reserve of senior executives, which raises questions of social justice and equal commitment to developing employees at all levels and from all diversity groups.

In addition to 1:1 coaching, there is also an emerging use of team coaching (an existing team being coached together) and gr oup coaching (coachees don’t belong to the same team but are being coached together). As the workforce becomes increasingly diverse and spread out geographically, the body of knowledge on managing diverse and virtual teams could give some insights for coaching these teams. Further, the deep democracy model by Mindell is proposed for coaching diverse teams. It is based on the critical importance of acknowledging each voice and every feeling for the team to come to know itself and to resolve its issues (Stout-Rostron, 2017).

So far though, most coaching takes place 1:1, a coach working with one coachee. In some cases, this is extended to coaching the respective line manager, e.g. in parental transition coaching programmes that are aimed at supporting the transition into, and back from, parental leave. However, there are real opportunities for other ways of organising coaching. Examples include:

  • 1 A ‘many coaches coaching many coachees’ model by refining large meetings and professional conferences. I feel disappointed when a large group of people with the same interests and extensive experiences are in one place, but peer coaching is not being used apart from incidental networking. In my view, there are missed opportunities for ‘many to many’ coaching at conferences and meetings by complementing expert speakers with facilitation of more interaction within the participants.
  • 2 Secondly, ‘many coaches coaching one person’ is also an under-used model. Arguably, this is the most expensive coaching set-up, but is justified, for instance in the sales context if a person is critical to high value business transactions. In mentoring, having multiple mentors was found to be beneficial (Higgins & Thomas, 2001).
  • 3 Another development is that many fields that primarily used advice-giving and clinical approaches are also adopting a coaching stance. These include mental health (e.g. the charity Restore offers career coaching for people with mental health problems), the rise of health coaching (NHS coaching in the areas of obesity, smoking and sexual health), career guidance (career counsellors in education are increasingly called career coaches) and education (schools and universities frequently train their teaching and student support staff in coaching).

4 Several voices encourage working more with emotions in coaching and coaching supervision (Duffel & Lawton-Smith, 2015, 2017). This is supported by Einzig (2017) who proposes coaches need to work in the future at a deeper emotional level. As clients are operating increasingly in a VUCA environment (volatile, uncertain, complex and ambiguous), coaches need to be more comfortable working with anxiety. Further, employers encourage their employees to bring their whole self to work and it can be expected that coachees are more transparent about their mental health issues with then-employers, line managers and coaches.

The management of boundaries between coaching and clinical practices such as counselling has caused intense debate. Coaching bodies require coaches to recognise the limits of their competencies; coach training and coaching supervision are also focused on boundary management. However, Pick and Hall (2017) have pointed out that published codes of ethics are not clear enough and offered an alternative in form of a practical question set.

So, if coaches will work more with emotions and formerly clinical issues, what are the implications for coaching and coaching supervision training? Is there a place for courses combining coaching and clinical psychology? The emergence of the Integrative Coach-Therapists Association points in this direction (Pick & Hall, 2017). Crowe (2017) makes a case for using the strength of both coaching and psychology and proposes that the coach requires core competencies such as knowledge and practical application, relationship competencies and counselling/ coaching skills. They also need meta-competencies such as reflective practice and scientist-practitioner principles.

In summary, the use of coaching is changing in terms of both of who is involved (one to one, one to many, many to many, many to one) and what the coaching is concerned with. This questions traditional boundaries to other interventions, in turn requiring new skills from and training for contemporary coaches.

5 Coaching economics

Forms of coaching enabled by technology, and shorter term or on-demand coaching, mean more affordable programmes can be offered to a wider group of populations in organisations, and in a wider range of contexts e.g. in the not-for-profit sectors. On the other hand, the greater percentage of coaching being undertaken by internal coach pools and managers-as-coaches means organisations increasingly spend resources on coach training, continuous development, coach supervision and administration of internal coaching pools and programmes. The aim of this move is often to decrease external coaching spend, but internal costs are frequently underestimated. It appears organisations typically combine internal coach pools with traditional external coaching to reap the benefits of both approaches e.g. using external executive coaching for then leaders or well-being coaching that requires specialist knowledge.

Large organisations increasingly buy coaching in a more formalised way, involving procurement departments, often on a global basis. This approach may decrease coaching costs for a buying organisation. However, creating extensive proposal documentation and managing lengthy sales cycles has made pitching for work expensive for coaching providers who are typically small companies or independent consultants. Some purchasers use online market places to automate procurement. It is questionable if automation is the right process to use for a specialist developmental service such as coaching. For example, a popular requirement is the need for the coach to be accredited by coaching bodies such as the International Coaching Federation (ICF), the Association of Coaching (AC) or the European Mentoring and Coaching Council (EMCC). While they aim to ensure the coach is fit to practice and adheres to a code of ethics, their limitations mean they don’t always cover emerging forms of coaching. So, a company looking for a specialist provider for one-off emergency telephone coaching would find it difficult to find any that are accredited by frameworks that evaluate the competencies for building, maintaining and ending relationships over multiple coaching sessions. Calls have been made to move from a competency to a capability model (Bachkirova & Lawton-Smith, 2015) and the role of accreditation in the future will need further debate. The evaluation of coaching will also need to be revised to take diversity factors into account.

This section has set out an agenda for continuing coaching conversations in the areas of the diversity of coach and coachee, coaching technology, the use of coaching and coaching economics. The following case study on the use of coaching as part of an autism diversity programme brings together many of the strands just discussed.

Neurodiversity - an example of coaching in more diverse organisations

A good example of what both coaching for diversity and coaching in more diverse organisations means in practice for organisations, coaches and coachees, is the area of neurodiversity. This section covers two areas: first a brief discussion of dyslexia, followed by a case study of an autism diversity programme.


Research and practice have increased understanding of how to support people with dyslexia in education and the workplace. Usually graduates now know if they are dyslexic when they start working, and many employers have changed their recruitment practices to ensure applicants with dyslexia have equal opportunities. Employees in later career stages might not realise they are dyslexic and have often experienced discrimination in recruitment processes and career progression. This is an example where knowledge about a diversity dimension is usefill for any coach and suggests coaches should have some knowledge about dyslexia, so they can adapt their way of working with coachees with dyslexia; for example, in how they use paperwork pre-, dining and in-between sessions or adapt how they organise working with thoughts and ideas during coaching. Such coaches might be able to spot undiagnosed dyslexia in a client and refer for an assessment. Lockett (2017), an academic with dyslexia, advocates focussing less on what people with dyslexia can’t do, more on what they can do - an alignment with strengths-based coaching approaches and the general aim of supporting coaching clients in fulfilling their potential.


From 2013 the global software company SAP pioneered this strengths-based diversity approach by integrating people with autism into the workforce through an international Autism at Work Programme. Colleagues with autism are provided with a support ecosystem made up of line managers, buddies and mentors. Coaching complements this, bridging work and home life through an external job-and-life skills coach. This is in line with recommendations in the literature of individualised off- and on-the-job coaching to develop strengths and support development areas for employees with autism (Lorenz & Heinitz, 2014). This holistic approach to coaching evolved out of a specific context, moving away from the traditional differentiation between business and life coaching. While the job-and-life skills coaches mainly coach employees with autism, they are available to work with everybody who is in contact with an Autism at Work participant. Hence the coach is not just working in the traditional ‘coaching pair’ relationship, but also on demand with colleagues holding different roles in the wider support ecosystem. This is an example of a systemic approach in using coaching, which is of increasing importance (Hawkins & Smith, 2013; Whittington, 2016).

However, this sort of arrangement can challenge confidentiality for the coach, an issue which should be considered carefully when implementing such a programme. Furthermore, it links to the earlier discussion on the requirement for knowledge of diversity dimensions. Knowledge of autism can help the coach to support coachees with autism in communicating effectively. Indeed, one of the roles for the job-and-life coach is to translate social situations and expectations to coachees with autism and therefore equip them to communicate in unfamiliar situations. SAP has an internal coach pool that is open to all employees and it encourages managers to adopt a coaching style with all employees. Cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT, out of which many popular coaching tools evolved) is used widely with adolescents and adults with autism (Attwood, 2004), so could inform coaching employees with autism. This has implications for internal coach training and contracting with external coaching providers. Rogers (2016) suggests it is important to set realistic expectations what coaching can achieve when coaching clients with autism - a useful reminder of the general importance of having a robust approach to contracting with the coachee and the organisation.

Several companies understand the business case for recruiting employees with autism to create competitive advantage (Austin & Pisano, 2017). In summary, the SAP case study points to several important questions organisations committed to diversity generally need to ask themselves. Thais Catarino, HR Business Partner and manager of the SAP Autism at Work Program in Brazil (who is also a professional coach at SAP) poses the following questions:

  • 1 How accessible are both internal and external coaching - is it available to all employees?
  • 2 How do we equip all to coach a diverse workforce that includes colleagues who are differently abled, disabled or have medical conditions?
  • 3 What is the role of coaching to support managers of diverse teams - how can they be supported with specialist knowledge, in a crisis or with daily challenges?

Continuing coaching conversations

This chapter has summarised the key conversations on diversity in coaching for five key aspects of coaching practice. A broad approach was taken by evaluating coaching/or diversity (coaching programmes with a specific focus on increasing organisational diversity) as well as discussing the increasing diversity in any type of coaching. I presented case studies on using coaching to increase gender diversity and innovative ways of using coaching as part of an autism diversity programme. These draw out transferable knowledge for other coaching contexts. In the future, I expect the diversity and diversity intelligence of core parties involved in coaching, and different sorts of coaching will increase. We need to ensure the consideration of diversity in the wider ecosystem of coaching practice. The key fields here are: coach training; coach accreditation frameworks; coach supervision; supervisor training; coaching progr amme management and administration; coaching procurement and coaching evaluation such as return on investment studies. Measures of coaching effectiveness need to be revised to take the increasing diversity of coaching into account. Further, we need to look more at coaching supervision, often seen as a ‘nice to have’ in intentai coaching programmes rather than as essential. It is often overlooked in the budgeting process, but everything I have discussed points to the increased importance of supervision.

Coaching research needs to become much more diverse. It needs to follow as coaching uses expand to new contexts such as in education and clinical settings. However, it can be difficult to design studies which comply with ethical standards when they involve service users. Existing coaching research is mainly based on knowledge workers in the West and tends to focus on coaches as they are easier to access than coachees. Consequently, organisations need to support coaching research to increase its diversity by giving access to their employees e.g. through partnering with external researchers such as academic or private research institutions. Organisations could undertake their own research projects as part of their strategy, as indeed many organisations possess internal research skills that can be applied. Naturally, research designs should factor in diversity.

New opportunities for coaching could arise out of new technologies such as Al, Machine Learning and robotics. This is dealt with in Chapter 9 in this book.

Overall, it can be expected that specialist diversity coaching aimed at increasing an organisation’s diversity and the diversity in coaching itself both continue to increase. I expect we will continue to see a rise in interventions and services called ‘coaching’ that wouldn’t have been labelled as such in the past. Publications debating what coaching is and isn’t were already plentiful at a time when coaching was relatively homogenous. Many will question if some of the emerging forms of coaching should be called coaching, but the fact is that the providers have deliberately chosen to position them as coaching, so we need to continue to question our assumptions of what coaching can be. Therefore, it is imperative that the debates, research and knowledge exchange in the field of diversity and coaching continues.


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Chapter 8

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