Building a Pipeline Filled With Diverse Leaders Ready to Move Up Through Coaching

Minorities will become a majority of the population in a few decades, meaning they will soon be a majority of the workforce. Developing diverse leaders now is important to a successful transformation process.
By Ingrid Johnson

Businesses are creating Diversity and Inclusion (D&I) positions at the executive level in growing numbers, and they are usually minorities or women. Though admirable, filling a single executive-level position with a diverse person is not enough to create an organization that strives to change workforce behaviors to be more inclusive. As the population and the labor force continue to grow more diverse, people need role models at all levels, like diverse unit heads and first-line managers they feel can understand the issues around D&I and address them with emotional and cultural sensitivity.

Though progress has been slow, each year more organizations are purposefully developing diverse leaders in leadership pipelines and hiring diverse people to fill vacant leadership positions. This transformation is triggering another one which is the emergence of coaching processes targeting diverse leaders in recognition of the unique challenges many face, like stereotyping.

Coaching to the Stereotyping
Executives and managers who are people of color, women, LGBTA, ethnic minorities, and people from other marginalized groups need to develop the same leadership skills applicable to the modern workforce as the executives and managers who are not diverse.

However, diverse leaders often have challenges to overcome that white male or even white female leaders do not. They include overcoming gender bias and stereotyping that makes people believe myths like black women get tapped for management positions only because of the color of their skin or that Asians are best suited for working with technology rather than managing business functions. When a company does promote diverse people into leadership positions, they must overcome conscious and unconscious biases in the workforce, in addition to performing expected leadership responsibilities.

Coaching is increasingly being used to address this challenge. Promoting someone into a position is not the same as achieving inclusion, and this is a common mistake organizations make. For example, a company may hire a woman as a top executive but leave her out of the typical networking activities of male leaders. A black manager may be the only person of color in a high-level management position and experience feelings of isolation.

Leadership coaching can help diverse leaders improve their communication styles to become more assertive to increase awareness in the organization that diversity is not inclusion. Coaches also focus helping leaders understand communication differences. Everyone comes from a certain culture and has a set of experiences that influence their communication styles, how they process information, and how they relate to other people.

Bernard Tyson, the CEO of Kaiser Permanente, talks about his first experience as a hospital administrator. He is African-American, and his physician partner was an older white man. The two gentlemen were unable to collaborate and were constantly disagreeing. One day, the partner invited Tyson to talk about their relationship, admitting he had never worked with a black man. For Tyson, it was an awakening that a majority of people do not know how to relate to someone so different from themselves. He now uses that experience in the company he runs as a platform for helping employees have the courage to talk about race, differences, and inclusion as they all work toward common objectives.

This incident occurred in 1992, and the fact Tyson is still working on changing the narrative now is very telling about diversity and leadership in corporate America. Coaching can help diverse leaders learn how to start the important conversations around D&I.

Coaching for More Productive Time and Energy
Amber Mayes Consulting, founded by Amber L. Mayes, offers executive coaching for marginalized groups. Its coaching program "equips leaders with tools to navigate the unique challenges of identity stereotyping." The company established coaching for diverse leaders because research, the company says, shows that "women, people of color and LGBT leaders sink extra time and energy into covering aspects of their identity and counteracting the burden of stereotypes." The coaching program includes team development sessions onsite and off-site, focus group and surveys, interviews, consultation through change processes, and Myers-Briggs Type Indicator personality assessment tool, among other things.

An effective coaching program builds an executive's or manager's capacity to lead, and for diverse people that means addressing stereotyping in a direct manner.

One of the challenges diverse leaders must overcome in many companies is the lack of diversity in general. High-potential leaders will leave when there are few or no role models in an organization, placing even more of a burden on the diverse leaders who remain. Executive coaching can change that trajectory by helping companies retain minority leaders, making faster progress toward an inclusive workplace and breaking down stereotyping like tokenism.

One of the important characteristics of a qualified professional who coaches women and minority leaders is values sensitivity, a term used by the American Psychological Association in 2011 in the article "Values sensitive coaching: The DELTA approach to coaching culturally diverse executives," appearing in Consulting Psychology Journal: Practice and Research.

Coaching diverse executives requires coaches to understand the cultural values that people embrace and that drive their behaviors and communication styles. This reinforces the statement made earlier that everyone is the sum of their experiences, and the experiences between groups of people are often very different.

Believing in Change
Sometimes the old saying about the more things change, the more they stay the same seems to hold true.

Coaching diverse leaders can make a difference because it helps them succeed in an environment that is often filled with bias. All managers must gain the respect of the people who work for them in order to lead a workforce, but diverse leaders have additional challenges to overcome compared to the traditional white male leaders.

Coaching diverse leaders is another step in helping people succeed.