EngagementEmployee EngagementHow to create a more inclusive workplace through coaching

How to create a more inclusive workplace through coaching

Businesses around the world have woken up to the importance of ensuring their workplaces reflect the communities they serve. Understanding how best to shape DEI strategies remains a challenge, however. Gill Tanner, senior behavioural scientist at Coach Hub, believes coaching may be the answer

Over the past ten years, creating inclusive and diverse workplaces has become an increasingly pivotal focus for leaders. In fact, according to Gallup, many organisations are re-assessing their Diversity, Equity & Inclusion (DEI) strategies, hiring people to dedicated DEI roles, and publicly pledging to support more diverse and inclusive workplaces. Seeing this trend continue to gain momentum is hugely affirming. It is the right thing to do, it extends opportunities to people who have historically been side-lined, and it brings a wealth of experience, backgrounds, and skills into places of work.

Of equal importance is the fact fostering more inclusive cultures makes sound business sense. Research has shown diversity and inclusion initiatives can lead to greater market share, as well as boosting productivity and innovation. McKinsey & Company has also repeatedly found a positive correlation between ethnic and gender diversity of executive teams, and their company’s overall financial performance.

So, the data exists to convince organisations of the importance of DE&I to their business. However, despite increased commitment and focus on the issue, there is still much work to be done: in 2020, Gartner found just 13 percent of HR leaders felt their organisation had been effective at increasing diversity representation. So, what else can organisations do, and what does building a long-lasting, impactful DE&I strategy involve?

DE&I: Understanding the words behind the acronym

Before organisations dive into building DE&I or (Diversity & Inclusion (D&I)) strategies, they should ensure they understand the basics. The terms which make up these acronyms are used frequently, and often interchangeably. But itis important to  understand each word, as well as their differences. Diversity, for instance, refers to the full spectrum of different social and demographic identities – whether it be race and ethnicity, gender and social orientation, values and beliefs, or social class. It also includes ‘neurodiversity’, which is the differences in individual brain function and traits.

Next, equity – the quality of being fair and impartial. Equity is simply the concept of providing fair opportunities for all employees based on individual needs. This may sound the same as equality, but there is a key difference. At work, providing steps at the front of the building may be treating people equally, but providing a ramp for colleagues who are in a wheelchair is about providing equity – ensuring everyone can get into the building.

Finally, we have inclusion, which is the practice of including and accommodating people who have historically been excluded for factors including race, gender, sexuality, and ability.

Setting individual DE&I goals

With this understanding, organisations can begin the work of creating a more inclusive workplace culture. One approach is through DE&I coaching. Unlike one-off workshops or large group training, coaching is typically conducted in one-on-one settings and is an ongoing process. It is much more time-intensive, but it is an approach which truly encourages engagement and long-term behavioural change. With the guidance of DE&I coaching, for instance, employees can become more comfortable with conversations and situations surrounding identities and differences – including race, abilities, and neurodiversity.

Everyone, no matter what background or experience level, can benefit from building their DE&I knowledge. However, DE&I coaching is particularly relevant for employees, managers and leaders who want to better their understanding of their own identities, as well as the identities of their co-workers. DE&I coaching can also be appropriate for individuals who hold traditionally oppressed identities, and who struggle to belong or to feel confident in their workplace. With the guidance of a DE&I coach, individuals can reflect on their identities, recognise their strengths and talents, and help build their confidence – all whilst finding their place in their workplace.

DE&I is a journey, never a destination

It is important to understand  the journey of becoming an inclusive organisation does not have one singular destination – it is an ongoing process. There are, of course, measurable outcomes associated with DE&I coaching, but there is no end to the breadth of knowledge an individual or wider organisation can have.

DE&I goals tend to be around continual improvement, rather than ticking any boxes, and can include developing a better understanding of different identities and the identities of co-workers; identifying biases, revealing blind spots, and exploring how to overcome them; improved competency at having difficult DE&I conversations.

Setting these individual goals is the first step individuals take in DE&I coaching. For instance, a learner might have the personal goal of growing confidence in holding difficult conversations about gender-based discrimination in the workplace – with both the victims and those who might be perpetrating this behaviour. A learner might also want to develop their skills to better support neurodiverse employees. In partnership with their coach, the learner could work to improve the company’s hiring and onboarding practices to better support neurodiverse employees. Coaching could also involve practice around accommodation conversations, such as discussing noise-cancelling headphones to accommodate for noise sensitivity, or regular breaks for overstimulation.

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A two-way street

Finally, it is important to acknowledge that when we talk about DE&I, it cannot exclude the coaching profession itself. Racial justice, equity, and belonging are all hugely important issues which extend to coaching. As the industry works to develop more inclusive workplaces with DE&I-focused coaching, it must also acknowledge the work which needs to be undergone in the industry itself. From gender pay gap analyses, hiring of diverse communities, access to gender-neutral bathrooms, and barrier-free offices – all approaches are valuable and must be considered. It is important that, when choosing a coach or coaching service to work with on DE&I, organisations investigate their own positioning and commitment around the subject.

Embarking on a DE&I strategy to create a more equitable and inclusive workplace culture is no easy feat. It involves a lot of difficult discussions and introspection, and the lack of a ‘finish line’ can be daunting. The process of creating an inclusive workplace culture is certainly nuanced and complex, but by incorporating coaching into the wider strategy, organisations and leaders can drive tangible change.

Download the key takeaways from CoachHub’s eBook on The Value of DE&I & Why Digital Coaching Helps.

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