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Coaches can help clients overcome microaggressions in the workplace

Minorities and women face distinct challenges in the workplace that can hamper career growth and undermine confidence. Coaching perspectives can help minorities and women thrive in the workplace through self-acceptance, self-development, and self-management.


Microaggressions undermine career growth for minorities and women


Coaches can help clients address the career impact of microaggressions


By promoting self-development, coaches can help minorities overcome self-doubt

Wisdom Weavers

Women in leadership face high standards and high risk

Dr. Andromachi Athanasopoulou

Minorities and women face discrimination in the workplace. By encouraging coaches to understand how microaggressions undermine clients, coaches can help clients discover self-development methods for overcoming workplace discrimination.

In her talk on the final day of the 2021 Future of Coaching Convening, Wisdom Weaver Dr. Andromachi Athanasopoulou outlines how barriers to women in the workplace are more nuanced than they appear. She explains, “besides [the] glass ceiling, there is another glass phenomenon called the glass cliff. And that is when women and minorities actually are more likely to be offered C-suite roles in companies that are in financially precarious positions and roles that men may turn down.” 

In addition to navigating these high-risk opportunities, minorities and especially women struggle with work-life balance issues that create tensions which “can be in some way invigorating and help women, but in other ways deplete their energy.” 

Andromachi explains that this unfair construction creates a dynamic in which women feel they need “to prepare more than perhaps the other person before a meeting because they have a sense of not feeling good enough or being assessed [as] not good enough; therefore, they have to make that extra effort.”

The minority “risk tax” contributes to burnout

Wisdom Weaver Margaret Moore identifies a similar pattern, stating, “interviews with women and minority leaders suggest they pay a risk tax to achieve career mobility. [Women] actively pursue high-risk assignments in order to stand out. So, you take on much tougher assignments. It’s precarious because you get more scrutiny, you make a misstep, your career is derailed, and there’s a huge amount of strain on you. And so, this risk tax, combined with having a high standard of perfection, contributes to fatigue and increases leaders’ desire to exit the organization.” 

The combination of lower-entry jobs, harsh scrutiny, and fewer promotions erode minority leaders’ well-being. In addition to this disparity, Margaret Moore explains that

“There’s a broken rung when women become mothers. The ladder breaks and they suffer [from] biased expectations as mothers … If you don’t help them manage that transition into working motherhood, they can fall off the ladder.”

Margaret Moore

Coaches need to understand how microaggressions undermine confidence

When women gain workplace promotions, new hurdles arise. Andromachi observes that when “women respond to gender stereotypes or deviate from them…they might get pushback from their environment.”

The “pushback” can occur in several ways. One such manifestation is through microaggressions targeting Black women in the United States. Moore says, “In order to stand out, there’s an expensive price [for] black women leaders.” Research is currently being conducted that addresses “all the things that Black women deal with and then how they cope.” In order to coach and assist women minority leaders, coaches “really do need to understand what [microaggressions] feel like. We need to bring that understanding into coaching.”

How can coaching help women in a culture that allows this unfair treatment? Andromachi discusses research conducted with female leaders and details the outcomes coaching interventions can offer. The researchers “identified three themes around the types of outcomes produced. . . one is around the essence of personal development, and it has to do with [women] overcoming aggressive behaviors or experiences. . . The second group of outcomes is around behavioral changes in relation to others, and that has to do with clients improving their leadership skills because of the interventions and improving, also the quality of their interactions with others. The final group of outcomes is around how the client performs in their work, getting a higher productivity, and also being a person that is nurturing a work environment that’s more positive as a result of these different aspects of their behavior.” Andromachi finds that

“Coaching as an intervention. . .can help pull a female leadership style up in [a woman’s] career ladder.”

Dr. Andromachi Athanasopoulou

Andromachi furthers this analysis by outlining the three overarching themes related to female leaders as a result of coaching sessions. The first theme is “self-acceptance. . . it has to do with helping women feel that they can be a leader, so they can accept the fact that they can be successful — and leaders — and they can pursue that ambition. The second is around self-development. It’s about helping women create their own footprint, and it has to do with helping women to understand that they can be the leader that they want to be.” The third theme is “self-management, I think it… helps in finding imbalance and helping women to find a balance to embrace the leadership, that aspiration they have, and their leadership style and the leader they want to be.”

Coaching can support women in the workplace by:

  • Helping women see themselves as leaders through self-acceptance
  • Encouraging women to prioritize self-development
  • Empowering women to achieve balance through self-management

Coaching and the United Nations Global Goals

Coaching assists minorities and women who face discrimination in work and life. With a constant hope of working beyond humanity’s past mistakes, the topics intersect with the United Nations Global Goal 5, which aims to achieve gender equality and empower all women and girls. In particular, the issue illuminates the importance of understanding the nuances of every individual to facilitate personal and universal developments. Wisdom Weavers identify the issues at hand and believe that there is hope through constant intervention. Individual growth may one day lead to a healthier, more wholesome environment for all.

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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