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ATD Blog

Coaching Can Help Your DEI Initiatives for Gender Diversity Take Shape and Show Returns

Wednesday, March 29, 2023

Despite the measurable strides gender-based DEI initiatives have helped to bring about in corporate America, the inclusion of women in leadership ranks has slowed. According to IBM’s Women Leadership report, fewer women were in leadership pipelines in 2021 than in 2019. This lack is even more evident among women of color. Yet, few can argue that women leaders do create demonstrable business impact. The data speaks for itself.

The Current State of Gender-Based DEI Initiatives

An estimated 87 percent of Fortune 500 companies with women CEOs reported above-average profits in 2021, according to a study by Frank Recruitment Group. This number dropped to 78 percent for companies without a woman CEO. Within profitable companies, the study also found that increasing women leadership by 30 percent resulted in a 15 percent increase in the net revenue margin.

Now consider—the 2022 Women in the Workplace report from McKinsey, in partnership with LeanIn.Org, shows that only 25 percent of C-suite executives are women, and only 5 percent of these executives are women of color. Further, women make up only 40 percent of manager-level employees as of 2022. These numbers are likely to get worse before they get better, as we’re currently deep into repercussions from the “Great Breakup,” a period marked by American companies losing generations of diverse female talent at a rather alarming rate. This workplace exodus of women can be attributed to these trends:

  • Women still experience more belittling microaggressions than men.
  • Women are often given female-engendered responsibilities beyond their job description.
  • Despite ambitions and comparable or greater education, women encounter more barriers to career advancement.
  • Women do more employee well-being and inclusion-focused work, yet it often goes unrewarded.
  • Women often work a second shift after business hours, resulting in poor work-life balance.
  • Women choose to work for companies that prioritize flexibility, employee well-being, and DEI initiatives.

Why Invest in DEI Initiatives That Elevate Women Leaders’ Impact?

As newer, more ambitious generations of women continue the search for workplace diversity, equity, and inclusion, the leadership gap widens. This results in less diversity of thought, lower morale, decreased productivity, and limited innovation, all of which influence overall employee well-being and profitability.

Suppose companies are to achieve the returns they desire. In that case, they must invest carefully and intentionally in leadership development programs that complement women-focused DEI initiatives and result in an optimal leadership culture.


Place Empathy and Competence at the Core of Your Leadership Culture

In MIT Sloan’s June 2022 article, " How Empathy and Competence Promote a Diverse Leadership Culture," Grace Lordan and Teresa Almeida say that developing a system valuing empathy and competence is the secret to unraveling the disproportionate allocation of opportunities rooted in a male-dominated leadership structure. They believe in building the right leadership capabilities and instilling behaviors that:

  • Are supportive
  • Are results-driven
  • Encourage diversity in perspectives
  • Promote effective problem-solving

It’s also essential to measure and reward consistent demonstrations of genuine empathy and competence accordingly to avoid insincerity and virtue signaling—declaring awareness of an issue without addressing it.


Where Leadership Coaching Can Help

Leaders of any gender must develop the right leadership capabilities and behaviors; this is where coaching can make a difference. To become a leader who promotes DEI, rather than one who just says that they do, leaders need the space to examine how their existing mindsets and behaviors contribute to or hinder how others experience them.

Leadership coaching provides leaders with this space. Through highly personalized sessions, coaches challenge leaders to examine their behaviors and unconscious biases that hinder diversity of thought. Coaches also encourage leaders to invite different perspectives. This means intentionally creating moments in their day-to-day leadership that invite in all voices and perspectives and not avoiding conversations that can be uncomfortable. Instead, they make these into educational or teachable moments for their team.

Coaching helps leaders develop the vital capabilities to promote and model inclusive behaviors. Through this experience, they will:

  • Ensure all voices, especially marginalized voices, are heard and amplified.
  • Celebrate and integrate differences, and exhibit cultural intelligence.
  • Apply an equity lens to provide everyone visibility, access, and opportunity.
  • Model inclusive behaviors, and encourage others to do the same.

Women don’t need separate leadership development programs built just for them. They need equitable and consistent access to high-quality leadership development opportunities—period. Only by increasing investment in development strategies like leadership coaching, which can create and reinforce transferable, business impact-generating behaviors in women leaders, can companies create an optimal culture, close the leadership gap, achieve the bottom line, and enhance the outcomes they desire.

About the Author

Moira Alexander is the founder of Lead-Her-Ship Group, a digital content creation and marketing services company. She’s also the founder of PMWorld 360 Magazine, a certified project management and IT professional, and the author of "LEAD or LAG: Linking Strategic Project Management & Thought Leadership" and various ebooks.

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