Why it is time for coaching to hold its own mirror up

For Salma Shah, coaching should be next to embrace the move towards a more diverse and inclusive working culture. 

Coaching as a profession is all about inspiring people to maximise their personal and professional potential. However, attend any coaching conference and there is a distinct lack of diversity.

Despite all the progress made in the acceptance of coaching as a key business tool for influencing culture and performance, there is still a gaping blind spot and that is the lack of diversity in the coaching profession.

Coaching is so powerful and leadership styles are now more coaching-led. It’s only natural that it is crucial that we need to open up coaching up to a wider pool of people.

Sponsors of coaching in many organisations are becoming increasingly seasoned, selective and discerning when it comes to appointing external coaching, with cost efficiencies leading towards a steady growth in team coaching and internal coaches. However, a lack of diversity in their coaching pool means they are missing an opportunity to make a fundamental difference.

Coaching at all levels is going to be a key leadership skill.

We need diversity in coaches who naturally see the world from their wider systemic lens and have the tools to empathise and empower others. A BAME coach simply because of their life experience brings a distinct quality to a coaching conversation otherwise lacking.

Similarly all coaching needs a wider systemic lens and the best way to experience this is to have a greater mix of diversity during training and post training. 

Now more than ever in the post-Covid new world and in the eye of the storm of the Black Lives Matter movement we cannot let the workplace return to how it was. Coaching at all levels is going to be a key leadership skill.

Organisations will be looking for innovative ways of dealing with unconscious bias, inclusion and diversity initiatives. Addressing this through coach training for BAME employees and coach training which has a wider systemic inclusion lens is a powerful way to embed change at all levels. 

“Coaching is a vital component in driving diversity and inclusion action, and yet is an area not fully utilised”, says Kevin Lyons, Senior HR Manager at Pearson and UK HR D&I lead.


According to the ICF (International Coach Federation) coaching presence is the ability to be fully conscious and create a spontaneous relationship with the client, employing a style that is open, flexible and confident. Coaching presence means the coach calls out what they are observing and trusts their intuition to support the client in gaining clarity, increasing self-awareness, and finding the right solutions.

The essence of coaching is a collaborative, solution focused, action-oriented methodology that aims to enhance the coachee’s personal and/or professional goals. All coaching seeks to provide a framework which clients can work from to work towards their desired goals. 

Regardless of which psychological theories, techniques, and frameworks that are used within coaching, the coaching process relies entirely on the interpersonal interaction in one form or another. Indeed, ‘the essence of coaching is putting people first’ (Palmer and McDowall, 2010).

For both companies and individuals considering coaching with a wider lens on diversity and inclusion has the following benefits:

  • Companies looking for new ways to structure mutually satisfactory relationships. Internal coaches trained with a wider lens on diversity and inclusion offer a systemic means of engaging with senior leaders as individuals. Developing more fruitful ways for businesses and executives to work together has become a priority and a new source of economic value.
  • Commitment to ESG (Environmental Social Governance). As employees, investors and customers demand a company’s commitment to do more than make a profit. Increasing the diversity of coaching talent is advancing on social issues and making a positive impact.  
  • Retention of talent. Coaching is more than self-awareness, it integrates personal development and organisational needs. Coaching programmes with a wider systemic lens reach key groups of executives and offer a disciplined way for organisations to deepen relationships with most employees while increasing their effectiveness. The most valuable coaching fosters cultural change for the benefit of the entire organisation and the retention of talent.
  • Coaching has a multiplier effect. In unlocking potential, its benefits are far reaching beyond the coach and coachee.
  • Beyond positive action. Many organisations have attempted to achieve a more balanced workforce. Positive action is a ‘permitted action by an employer to assist protected groups which are disadvantaged or under-represented in a particular job’. However, there are still barriers to progression and lack of role models for under-represented groups. A lack of diversity among coaches means there is a real risk a coachee with an ethnic minority background may unconsciously edit which parts of their whole self they bring to the coaching relationship, and therefore unknowingly limit their overall experience.


About the author

Salma Shah is the founder of Mastering Your Power, a coach training programme with a wider lens of diversity and inclusion.



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