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How executive coaching can help close the gender gap


Ali Reardon of Right Management discusses how executive coaching can help shift the gender divide.

While women constitute about half of the workforce in most countries, they remain woefully under-represented in senior positions. In fact, the ‘Women on Boards’ Davies Annual Review that came out in March 2014 found that there’s still a lot more to be done to get women into executive positions. At the same time, our recent research, The Flux Report, found that two thirds of line managers think that women will make up half of all leadership roles in the next five years. This begs the question, if women are expected to be entering these positions of responsibility, what is holding them back and what can be done about that?

In several cases, there are self-imposed barriers. Although some female executives may be highly valued by their managers and business associates, they can often feel held back by self-doubt. Commonly known as ‘The Imposter Syndrome’, this obstacle is frequently associated with high-achieving people, particularly females working in sectors such as financial services that have strong male-oriented environments.

Executive coaching can be a great tool for helping women to feel more confident in the workplace by challenging self-limiting beliefs. It focuses on the development of an individual from a leadership perspective and often touches on areas such as influencing or communication skills to achieve wider organisational results. So how does executive coaching work and what typically happens in these sessions?

It’s a three-way partnership

While executive coaching is provided in a safe, confidential environment, it still requires agreed quantifiable outcomes. It’s a three-way partnership, between the organisation, individual coachee and the executive coach. Before the coaching begins, an agenda will need to be created and commitment sought by all parties to ensure that organisational and individual objectives are aligned. Only then will executive coaching provide real value and return on investment.

Help employees to prevent self-limiting thoughts

Thoughts like 'I won’t be able to operate at that level', 'I’ll never be good enough' or 'I’m not as good as...' can be common amongst many workers, particularly females working in a male-dominated environment. Therefore, it’s important that organisations look to help their employees to eliminate these unhelpful phrases from their vocabulary. In addition, helping employees to get to know their inner voice is important. What does it remind them of? Is it supportive or critical? Is it helpful or obstructive? Would they put up with someone else speaking to them like this? These sorts of questions are key in helping employees to think about the things that are holding them back and what they can do to prevent this.

Help them to accept their flaws

In many cases, women are held back by what they describe as their ‘flaws’, so it’s important to remind these employees that flaws are just a part of being human and everyone has them. The coaching process can help individuals to realise that flaws don’t define someone’s whole being and that they shouldn’t stop them from pursuing opportunities. Waiting to feel confident before taking action can often prevent progress, so employees need encouragement to act first and understand that confidence will often follow.

Organisations have a great opportunity to use coaching to help their talented female employees grow into leadership positions and climb up the corporate ladder. Evidence suggests that companies with a higher representation of women at the board and senior management levels outperform lower-ranking companies in terms of return on equity and other financial metrics.

Businesses today face a significant talent shortage as it is. They simply can’t afford to exclude women from senior leadership roles so it makes business sense to unleash the full potential of all employees, female and male.

Ali Reardon is head of coaching at Right Management


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