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How Coaching Helps Overcome the Most Common Hurdle to Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion

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Thu Oct 22 2020

How Coaching Helps Overcome the Most Common Hurdle to Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion
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With many offices still closed due to the pandemic, executives and employees might feel out of touch with their co-workers. While current events have become a cause for personal reflection about bias, privilege, and equality, not everyone has been able to apply this thinking at work.

However, there is a way to start improving your company’s diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) practices immediately—and it’s possible to do so whether your employees are fully remote, partially remote, or back at the office. That practice is coaching.

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To understand how coaching can help, let’s go over the most common problem we see with DEI at work: Companies prioritize short-term diversity efforts over long-term results.

Typically, companies invest in DEI efforts only after they’ve had a problem in one of those areas. They’ll roll out a new program or training aimed at solving the problem then six to 12 months later forget all about it. This approach sacrifices meaningful improvement for short-term success.

If you have experienced or witnessed this problem happening at your company, you’re not alone. According to experts, most diversity programs aren’t increasing diversity. The good news is that coaching can help. We know because as experts in DEI and coaching, we’ve put it to the test and seen the results for ourselves.

How Coaching Can Help

First, coaching conversations are designed to help people progress toward their goals, big and small. DEI issues are important, and without experience or support, tackling them can seem impossible without a method. Larger challenges like these can seem daunting without a proven process to help guide conversations and stay focused on the goals without getting derailed by distractions.

Second, coaching is not a one-person job. No matter who is leading the diversity efforts at your company, everyone’s behavior affects DEI. From the CEO to your newest intern, everyone can channel the power of coaching to change DEI efforts.

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Coaching brings numerous powerful aspects to DEI:

  • Done well, it brings three critical components to any conversation, particularly to DEI—caring, candor, and constructiveness.

  • Coaching is powered by a belief that everyone has a profound capability to learn and that change comes about when you remove the “interference” to that capability.

  • One powerful form of interference is the assumptions we all make, and coaching moves people beyond their biases by helping them separate the observable facts from the interpretation or meaning they create.

  • Coaching provides the psychological safety (a nonjudgmental environment) necessary for people to become more self-aware by creating an environment that enables people to examine their thinking.

  • In that safety, people will astonish us with their profound capability to learn. It is there that we can start to move the needle on how we interact with each other in groups and how we create inclusive and equitable practices for our organization.

It doesn’t matter whether your company has a formal coaching program because “coaching” can be described as an intentional conversation in which we pay more attention to being caring, candid, and constructive. At minimum, these conversations happen during scheduled one-on-one meetings, but ideally, a company with a coaching culture will see these happening everywhere, as frequently as possible.

Bringing a coaching mindset to conversations helps create the psychological safety that allows everyone to become more self-aware of their differences and the differences of others. A true coach bases their conversations on the belief that “everyone has the capacity to perform at a higher level,” so differences are seen as the reality to be navigated rather than good or bad or right or wrong. They are seen more as strengths and contributions, not shortcomings or weaknesses.

Once we’ve mastered coaching conversations and the ability to create a safe, nonjudgmental environment, the mindset and tools of coaching can be used on yourself (also know as self-coaching). Self-coaching can be used to recognize and work out your implicit biases, shift perceptions, and allow for seeing reality from another’s point of view. When every member of your company works toward this goal, real change will happen.

Coaching Toward a Long-Term Solution

Coaching has never been, nor ever will be, a short-term solution because individuals can’t become coaches after one training session, and companies can’t grow a culture of coaching without a major overhaul. Instead, coaching should be a long-term solution to creating a culture of acceptance—one that is based on conversations that are caring, candid, and constructive.

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Company culture is the summation of all individual behaviors. Any change in an organization, no matter how big or small, is going to start with one person doing something differently. That is why coaching can have such leverage—helping people communicate with one another so that important changes can be made that will advance the company forward.

Whenever we help a company implement a coaching program or tackle issues with DEI, we understand that organizations are made up of people, and these individuals will need to look beyond themselves to see a pattern of discrimination to make a change at the organizational level. That change can and should start in the conversations you have with others and with yourself. If coaching can guide these conversations to be caring, candid, and constructive, we can make important progress in the diversity of our workplaces.

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