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Addressing inequality through a coaching approach

Coaching is shown to facilitate personal growth and development, additionally, it has the power to address inequality, according to our Wisdom Weavers. In this conversation, Margaret Moore and Richard Boyatzis discuss the potential for coaching practices to raise awareness of inequality and to help marginalized groups develop a sense of purpose.

Wisdom Weavers


Margaret Moore

In-groups and out-groups construct unhealthy environments

A common cause of inequality is the formation of “in-group” and “out-group” norms, which emerge within teams and across organizations. Margaret Moore explains that “a lot happens to [people in] the out-groups. Painful things happen. . . they don’t feel they belong, their self-esteem takes a hit. They are afraid of discrimination, they have huge amounts of stress and anxiety, they get sick. Black men have higher rates of heart disease [and] cancer as a result of the stress of being in the out-group. The biases become self-fulfilling, your competence and confidence are impaired. You have less access to resources and opportunities and you don’t reach your full potential.”

Richard Boyatzis expands on Moore’s description of adverse “out-group” experiences. Boyatzis explains, “If you have intersections of gender differences and cultural differences or gender differences and cultural differences and racial differences that the effects aren’t just additive . . . the effects are multiplicative, which means that the stress and burnout which is really burn up is huge and if we’re ever going to coach people in a way that helps them deal with all of these things, it’s going to take some heavy-duty work because it’s not as simple as dealing with one form of stereotyping bias.”


Meeting clients in their context builds confidence and creates purpose-driven growth

Coaching can offer assistance to heal from traumatic events caused by inequalities. This is the post-injury solution, but Moore suggests there may be a preemptive route that acts as a protective factor for clients. As Moore suggests,

“Coaching is all about having a vision to change the world.”

Margaret Moore

Turning the focus to the “minority non-dominant, the vision for me is that we’re helping people reach their full potential and that the context matters.” Moore continues “When you bring coaching to a different culture, the culture has a huge impact on how you view coaching.” 

For marginalized communities, coaching can offer assistance building workplace competency and confidence. Coaching practices support individuals when, “the desired outcomes are multiple; it could be the person’s sense of health and well-being, it could be some improvement in their behavior,” explains Boyatzis. “The most powerful thing we do as a coach has helped someone build a new sense of purpose or reaffirm their dream, a broad vision for what they want out of life. Regardless of what the changes are . . . isn’t it true that we should look for coaching to work on a number of outcomes? Because if we allow any one outcome to be preeminent, I think it goes off course and something doesn’t get addressed well.”


Coaching needs to foster diverse thinking to best serve the client

In order to truly understand the client, the context of the individual needs to be assessed. When the question “in whose eyes is the outcome determined? [is posed,] that’s when we start to look at the cultural relativity that the assumptions that in one culture may not be the same as another,” Boyatzis says. He adds, “in individualistic cultures, we want to improve a person’s efficacy or individual performance for their chance at [a] better life. In collectivist cultures, people want to impose a different kind of conformity and be a part of the mass and just do what’s expected.” Unless this quandary is carefully considered, Boyatzis cautions coaches can worsen the impact of inequality:

“We can easily see them going off the rails and us making things worse in society or in global mechanisms.”

Dr. Richard Boyatzis

With these suggestions and observations in mind, the future of coaching offers hope for fostering a pluralistic and culturally diverse society. When coaches understand the individual nuances of the client, the conversation can dive deeper and the results are increasingly striking. 

Going forth, Richard Boyatzis offers a bit of advice and hopes to create a more inclusive world. “Asking for more perspectives, doing more research on that, I think is going to be really key … Finding out how people’s dreams do differ around the world will be absolutely amazing.” 


Coaching and the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals

Coaching facilitates personal growth and flourishing. With a constant hope of working beyond humanity’s mistakes of the past, the themes discussed strongly connect with two of the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals. In particular, Goal 5 and Goal 10 respectively aim to achieve gender equality and empower all women and girls and to reduce inequality within and among countries and nations. Through awareness and assistance, solutions to widespread problems can rise up through the application of coaching intervention.


About this Convening

Forty-one Wisdom Weavers from across the globe gathered to share their thoughts and observations on Shaping the Future of Coaching across three separate Future of Coaching Convenings in September 2021. Learn more about the participants and topics covered in this Convening.

For the complete report and research recommendations, see Boyatzis, R.E., Hullinger, A., Ehasz, S.F., Harvey, J., Tassarotti, S., Gallotti, A., & Penafort, F. (2022). The grand challenge for research on the future of coaching. Journal of Applied Behavioral Science. DOI: 10.1177/00218863221079937

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