Why the coaching profession needs to pay attention to diversity

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Due diligence around the topic of inclusion is vital if coaching is to remain fit for purpose, says Rajvinder Kaur Uppal

Diversity is a reality. Globalisation, migration patterns, improved technology and increased communications have changed the way business is done, who it is done with and who we deliver goods and services to – as well as who we live among. The 2010 census data indicates that 36 per cent of the US population are diverse. In the UK, as of 2011, this was 14 per cent.

Diversity will continue to increase and what is currently the ‘minority’ will by 2045 become the ‘new majority’. This ‘new normal’ provides an opportunity for industries to re-examine their businesses, competencies and strategies in how to best engage with, target and monetise these changing markets.

Diversity has transitioned from being an obligatory politically correct buzzword to a reality for the future. Many global organisations and services are introducing diversity and inclusion departments to their organisations to reflect market demographics and respond to increasing legislative changes.

The coaching profession remains an unregulated industry, somewhat immune to public and professional scrutiny. There is potential for the profession to be a vital support for the diversity agenda – for both organisations and individuals. However, the coaching profession also needs to be mindful of how it acknowledges and facilitates racial diversity: in areas of training, hiring, organisational practice, branding, marketing, workplace and service delivery.

Coaching as a concept, and specifically traditional coaching – for example, the early foundations of coaching and models such as GROW – are marketed and considered, unknowingly, as western models. Uniform models, despite being results-oriented, do not necessary register external and underlying factors, systems or indeed diversity aspects of a coachee that could be usefully considered.

The coaching profession needs to refresh its current stance on diversity to engage and attract more diversity to its ranks if it is to appeal to a wider and growing diverse client base. Training needs to ensure that coaches have greater understanding of diversity to achieve better results for their clients. This requires the profession to turn the lens of due diligence on itself to assess and adapt its own cultural and racial understandings and expertise to ensure it is moving towards reflecting and working alongside market demands.

Guidelines and terms of conduct are hard, if not impossible, to monitor or stipulate. With no obligation or repercussions for coaches to follow ethical guidelines, there is a real danger that these are seen as virtue signalling.

Thoughts for the future

  • Diversity must be given a seat at the table – the decision-making table.
  • Leaders of coaching institutions, training and accreditation bodies need to take the lead and treat diversity as a legal, ethical and business obligation.
  • Diversity must be incorporated as a cultural and practical norm as opposed to being segregated and considered an issue or problem to tackle.
  • Coaching services should ensure they are marketed to ensure inclusivity and the profession and coaches need to reflect the society we live in.
  • Coaches may need to adapt to be more culturally and practically appealing.
  • Coaches need to consider their own diversity hiring.
  • Coaches must be willing and able to look at diversity within their own cultural and racial awareness, and their own and their coachees’ workplaces – addressing both conscious and sub-conscious levels of awareness.
  • Coaches should also have the ability to recognise and work within flawed systems.
  • Coaches must ensure they have supervision with a supervisor who has had appropriate training in diversity awareness.
  • Coaches should be aware of where, when and how they may need to refer the coachee to a specialist or a coach with appropriate diversity awareness. This could be a coach from the same racial group as the coachee, who may have better cultural and racial understanding and be able to address the prospective needs of the coachee.

The reality is that diversity and inclusion need to be given the highest priority, with a clear value proposition for any business or profession to survive and thrive in the future. Diversity does not just happen. The true value of diversity is beyond just best practice.

Rajvinder Kaur Uppal is a member of the Association of Coaching, the ICF and the Change Management Institute. She runs Plan B Consultancy

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