Research Paper By Shannon Norman
(Inclusion of Women in Leadership Coach, UNITED STATES)
The inclusion of women in leadership encompasses many factors; women, men, executives, and organizations. Women yearn to be treated equally to men. As more and more organizations are understanding the benefits of women in leadership roles, the level of interest on the topic is rising. Although, there are just as many organizations with zero interest. A unique factor is a lack of understanding by executives even though company boards are questioning the disparities.
Everyone has experienced a different journey in life leading to their thoughts, feelings, and beliefs. In the coaching world, this specific niche requires an emphasis on these experiences leading to a shift in awareness and commitment to change.
Many beliefs are developed at a young age. I grew up in a rural area where men were the authority and it was frequently communicated that women would never be able to do what men could do. Women, including all ages, were treated unfairly and looked down on. If a woman continues this belief system, she may unknowingly prevent herself from being included. Operating under the old belief system she most likely feels inadequate, leading to her thoughts of not being good enough. This type of thinking leads to a woman not speaking up when she has ideas in fear of being degraded or criticized. In the workplace, this results in hidden talent and missed opportunities for women to flourish into leadership roles. It is the same beliefs that may cause a man to discount a woman and her contributions. His unawareness of the underlying beliefs towards women will result in them not feeling included.
While there is momentum building within organizations to increase the presence of women in leadership roles, this is just the beginning. As women promote higher-level roles, there are new opportunities beginning with equality and fairness in total compensation, training and development, and the overall environment. These opportunities lead to another aspect of the coaching niche; coaching executives to help open their eyes to the inequities.
It is helpful for a coach to know who is driving the desire to change in an organization; executives or the board. If the change is driven by the board, there will need to be increased efforts to create awareness with the executives before involving others in the organization. Without this important step, the simple data reflecting an increase in women in leadership roles is superficial. As previously stated, opportunities go deeper, with equality and fairness in total compensation being the first layer. A surface-level analysis may reflect improvements to inclusion when additional review may show otherwise.
Important areas showing up in coaching this niche are similar to the attributes in coaching presence: confidence, creating awareness, self-management, releasing judgment, underlying beliefs, values, and life purpose, and effective feedback. Whether coaching a woman navigating the obstacles or an executive committed to making a shift towards a more inclusive environment for women these attributes will be key in the change.
Confidence is the first point on the map of the journey. Women and executives must exhibit a high level of confidence to develop respect from others. Even a woman who others have historically not recognized as a key contributor will be noticed if she portrays a high level of confidence. Confidence may be seen in many ways, for example, speak in a solid and clear voice, good posture (sitting up with shoulders back), make eye contact, do not fidget, become comfortable with silence, keep hands visible and a firm handshake. Of course, as executives embark on the journey to include women, their confidence in the matter will be judged by people on the sideline.
Creating awareness allows an environment to grow together, beginning with a strategy including where the organization wants to be, where they currently are and how they will get to the new destination. This is the point in the journey where vulnerability is high since opinions and beliefs will vary. Becoming comfortable with uncomfortable conversations will increase awareness. Whether a woman in the workplace or an executive in the organization, some level of awareness may already be present. The strategy will identify the appropriate next steps.
Self-management increases accountability and strengthens commitment. As people own their behaviors and reflect on the awareness created, a new environment begins to shape. A woman must pay special attention to her own behaviors to better position herself to be included compared to what may be more natural behaviors leading to exclusion. Self-reflection is imperative to executives as their behaviors speak to their commitment. If an executive talks about the area of importance but their behavior is contradictory, others will see through it.
Releasing judgment must occur as part of the transition. Judgment creates unspoken tension and refusal to see other perspectives. Judgment leads to a feeling of guilt. These feelings disengage those involved and prevent inclusion. Women may judge men, believing they have false motives. Executives may judge women who are juggling being a working mother. Even unintended statements or actions may be interpreted as judgment or criticism. An executive excluding a woman who has school-age children from a project requiring periodic evening hours is one example. Judgment must be released to begin creating awareness.
Underlying beliefs are not easily recognized. Generally, they live deep in our thoughts, going unnoticed except in how they show up in our feelings. The beliefs must be identified followed by understanding if they still make sense or it is time to make a change. Beliefs developed at a young age by a woman who carries them into adulthood may no longer be serving her; just as an executive mentored by all men who sit at a board table surrounded by men. Overcoming long-standing beliefs looks different to everyone. For some, it may be as easy as recognition while for others a concentrated effort over a period of time.
Values and life purpose define who we are and how we live each and every day of our life. This is the most sensitive of all. Traditionally, women were expected to have babies and be a homemaker while men focus on a career and providing for the family. Women deal with self-judgment and guilt as a result of these expectations. On top of this, the judgment and beliefs others place on women may be enough to shatter any level of remaining confidence. Misalignment of values whether it be from women or executives will hamper inclusion and must be resolved to foster a different environment.
Effective feedback is essential in making progress. Fostering an environment inclusive to women in leadership takes time and ongoing calibration, hence feedback on what is working well along with what is not working must occur. High levels of trust must be present along with executives inquiring about progress, followed by active listening. Feedback from both women and executives are essential as they both view the environment through a different lens. A strong leadership presence grounded by courage is also necessary.
Actions speak louder than words. Organizations must do more than communicate a need for improvement in creating an environment fostering growth for women, but show results and model such behaviors. Training and education for everyone is a sound start. We live in a professional world where people expect high levels of flexibility and work-life balance. One of the driving factors shining a light on increased work-life balance occurred as more mothers entered the workforce. These mothers were juggling a family and a career. The reasons for work-life balance have expanded to include all of the workforce, not just women. People must care for elderly parents, tend to their furry loved ones, or are single parents including men juggling what was once known as a women’s role. Education including facts similar to this promote awareness and discussion in a work setting.
Women must stand out as a leader. To do this, they must reflect on their thoughts, feelings, and beliefs regularly and learn what benefits them. She must be receptive to feedback from others. She must be courageous and confident and effectively handle obstacles. Emphasis on emotional intelligence is crucial. Just the right amount of balance between feelings and thinking will catapult the mentioned behaviors.
In addition to emotional intelligence, several other frameworks and models will be extremely useful in coaching this niche. Neuro-Linguistic Programming (NLP) will assist in the development of verbal, non-verbal and eye movements to shift the body and mind to different patterns of thinking. The new strategies and techniques will become second nature and lead to increased confidence.
The DISC® assessment will provide insight on behavioral traits to “increase self-awareness around an individual’s motivations, responses to conflict and the way in which they problem-solve” as mentioned in the ICA coaching presence module. It also furnishes common language for people to easily communicate using similar descriptions. The common language promotes understanding of people who are different from each other, encouraging a more inclusive environment.
The StrengthsFinder assessment identifies a person’s natural strengths, many times unbeknownst to them. Awareness of one’s strengths is valuable information for the individual, colleagues, and leaders. Sharing this information across a team highlights the advantages of differences between people and encourages collaboration.
The ICA coaching presence module explains The Enneagram personality model as it “describes conscious and unconscious behavior, including underlying fears and motivations.” The new understanding allows growth both individually and with others fostering deeper relationships.
Mindfulness is essential in creating awareness and releasing judgment. It allows a person to become comfortable connecting to their thoughts, feelings, and beliefs. The ICA coaching presence module explains, “Through this important awareness that separates one’s sense of identity or view of what is true or real from what is experienced or observed, mindfulness practitioners gain freedom and are able to make more empowering choices by not succumbing to powerful or negative emotions or states as a matter of course.” Heightened mindfulness for both women and executives enable ongoing growth opportunities.
Inclusive cultures make everyone feel a part of something bigger than themselves. When people feel like they belong, they will be more confident. A coach helps uncover thoughts, feelings, and beliefs in a safe, judgment-free zone advancing an inclusive environment. Expecting executives to be a part of a movement they do not support is counterproductive; authenticity is vital. A component of the strategy must include potential barriers along with a plan to resolve them.
In closing, coaching on the inclusion of women in leadership will help both women and executives be a part of a movement resulting in inequality and inclusiveness. Those coached in this niche will be a part of a domino effect, leading to continued education and increased awareness to others as they share new insights and understood benefits for all.