The importance of diversity in coaching

Coach Salma Shah argues for greater diversity in coaching and for a diversity, equity, inclusion and belonging approach to training programmes, including online ones.

Salma Shah


Talent is everywhere, but opportunities aren’t. Merely practising inclusive hiring or tokenism is insufficient. Individuals from under-represented backgrounds often encounter systemic and cultural obstacles hindering their career advancement. In theory, coaching can play a significant role in retention, development and promotion of diverse talent. The advantages of being coached are boundless, including self-awareness, empowerment, goal achievement, leveraging strengths, confidence, learning new skills, motivation, understanding others and building relationships.

Providing high-quality, professionally trained inclusive coaching to all is a logical choice.

In most organisations, coaching is typically reserved for those in senior roles, leading to the exclusion of many individuals from underrepresented minority groups due to the lack of representation in these senior positions. Even when members of these groups are offered coaching, without coaches possessing the necessary skills and self-awareness to establish trust and psychological safety through an inclusive, belonging and equitable approach, the coaching experience may lack depth. The lack of diversity in coaching pools hinders their ability to make a significant impact. There is a growing need to widen access to coaching skills training and opportunities to be coached.

As coaching continues to gain recognition as a crucial business tool for enhancing culture and performance, diversity in the coaching profession remains notably low. Establishing an inclusive coaching culture that provides universal access to coaching can pave the way for purposeful and significant career growth.

Despite the lack of diversity in coaching, organisations are increasingly opting for team coaching, a leader as coach approach and internal coaches for cost-effectiveness.

Coaching continues to play a pivotal role in leadership development, with a rise in popularity of ‘People coach’ roles and ‘Leader as coach’ training programmes. Unfortunately, diversity, equity, inclusion and belonging is either omitted from
coaching skills training altogether or is a cursory superficial nod to the subject.

Is digital coaching a cop out?

It is concerning that digital coaching is being touted as the democratisation of coaching. Digital coaching tools offer leaders and coaches a phenomenal opportunity to make coaching affordable, accessible, scalable and flexible. This
opportunity could open the door for democratising coaching for everyone.

However, by understanding and optimising the benefits digital coaching offers, we need to take a stop and hold the mirror up: Are these tools inclusive in their design? Do they incorporate and benefit those from underrepresented groups? Do they meet the criteria for diversity, inclusion, equity, and belonging [DIEB]? There is still much work to do to fully understand how to coach someone from a DIEB perspective before jumping into the digital approach. Thus, we need to address the lack of DIEB in coaching and design digital tools and artificial intelligence (AI) coaching through a lens that reflects the lived experience of all, including those from underrepresented and marginalised groups.

Diversity in coaching is the solution

Having a diverse pool of coaches with varied life experiences is crucial. These coaches offer a broader systemic perspective, empathy, and effective empowerment. Each coach brings a unique viewpoint to coaching dialogues based on their background, enriching the coaching process in invaluable ways.

There is a demonstrable link between well-being and inclusion. All coaches need to understand how to coach someone whose lived experience is very different from their own. Creating a clear and robust space for psychological safety, trust and growth.

To foster and uphold an inclusive culture, leaders as coaches need to fully understand the principles of inclusive leadership and inclusive coaching as a blended approach. By acknowledging and addressing these blind spots, leaders can leverage their strengths, improve their weaknesses and lead themselves, their teams and their organisations toward authentic inclusivity.

*Salma Shah is the founder of the Mastering your power programme and author of Diversity, Inclusion and Belonging in Coaching. She is also a judge on the WM People Top Employer Awards and contributed to our recent roundtable on where we go next for inclusive, family-friendly working.

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