How coaching can support organisational diversity and inclusion

It goes without saying (but I’ll say it anyway) that successful organisations make the very best use of their most critical resource, their people. Every single person has amazing capability and brilliant performance potential and unlocking this talent across the organisation at all levels is critical to organisational success. The key to this is creating and sustaining an organisational culture that embraces diversity and encourages the inclusion of every employee in their working life. Not only does having a clear agenda to promote diversity and inclusion in the workplace make sense because of changing societal demographics but McKinsey’s research LINK shows that organisations with greater gender, ethnic, and cultural diversity in their executive teams  outperform peer companies on profitability.

But there is an elephant in the room when it comes to developing and embracing a diversity and inclusion performance culture. Many organisations approach this issue by running diversity training programmes and awareness seminars, alongside HR procedures to ensure absolute equity in the workplace for all. The real challenge though is to change deeply ingrained behaviours across the workforce, where old habits and assumptions create often unconscious biases that can reduce a total and true commitment to diversity and inclusion. 

Ultimately everyone in the organisation is responsible for ensuring that all of us – colleagues, suppliers, and customers – feel valued and appreciated. This goes way beyond just behaviors and involves a shift to a values-based inclusive culture in which the primary goal is to recognise, unlock and unleash the individual talents of all. This improves organisational performance and creates a workplace full of enthusiasm, energy, and personal responsibility. 

Whilst responsibility to embrace diversity and inclusion lies with all of us, it will be up to the leaders in the organisations - at all levels - to set the tone and example for this. HR might set procedural guidelines and organisational protocols, but an inclusive organisational culture lives through the way behaviours are played out everyday in the workplace. And that is a leadership and management responsibility. 

As coaching is a conversation that requires appreciative listening, a deep understanding of the other person, and holding individuals in high positive regard, leaders and managers should consider utilising their advance coaching skills as an effective approach in helping build sustainable inclusive organisational cultures that value and celebrate diversity. 

Coaching should only see the potential, talent, and capabilities of others, it can be totally unbiased and has the sole purpose of helping others be the very best they can be and to perform outstandingly well. This means that coaching conversations, when done well, are honest, transparent and have no motive other than helping someone learn, develop, and perform better.  

Coaching should also help people feel involved in decisions that affect their work, supported, and valued. In short, coaching makes people feel included, no matter who they are or what job they do. 

Some organisations have successfully introduced diversity and inclusion coaching specifically to help leaders become more self-aware and more effective in their leadership role. Other organisations employ coaches to help individuals in the workforce who feel excluded, marginalised, or unable to find their voice and express themselves effectively with the organisation. 

Such initiatives are to be welcomed and hopefully have some beneficial impact. However, only when the organisational culture embraces diversity and inclusion can there be any lasting impact.  

It is through a systemic change to the culture that provides the psychological safety for diversity to flourish and for everyone to bring their authentic selves to the workplace. 

So, on a day-to-day level, leaders and managers must use their coaching skills to listen, appreciate and include others. They must interrupt harmful or biased language or behaviour and encourage quieter and unrepresented voices to speak up. They must delegate work equitably and with consideration as to how best nurture talent across their team whilst achieving the results required. And through coaching, they must set a strong example of the behaviours we all need to show to encourage talent, diversity, and inclusion to flourish throughout the organisation.