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Race Matters in Coaching: An Examination of Coaches’ Willingness to Have Difficult Conversations with Leaders of Color

Bernstein, Ariel Finch

Do executive coaches have the skill sets necessary for effective partnership with an increasingly diverse workforce? Such inquiry remains unexamined, yet research from similar disciplines casts doubt. Drawing on these findings, a between-subject experiment sampled 129 coaches and examined their willingness to have “difficult conversations” with Black clients. The study investigated two questions in particular: (1) Do coaches provide less critical feedback to Black clients than they do White clients? and (2) Do coaches engage in fewer diversity-based conversations with Black clients than with White clients? The study found that as hypothesized, Black clients received more support, yet less challenge, less constructive feedback, and less time devoted to areas of development than did otherwise identical White clients. Coaches were also twice as likely to provide diversity-related feedback to White executives than they were to Black executives. Put simply, coaches assigned to Black clients chose to sidestep conversations about diversity and development. Substantial implications hold for practitioners, clients, and the greater coaching community. Findings suggested that coaches’ reluctance to provide challenging cross-racial feedback may stem from concern about appearing prejudiced. The result is that leaders of color who receive coaching may be robbed of developmental opportunities offered to White organizational leaders. Thus, the impact of racial dynamics should receive greater attention from U.S.-based coaching certification programs. In particular, institutes should consider mandating coaching supervision as well as incorporating diversity intelligence within their list of core competencies.

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More About This Work

Academic Units
Social-Organizational Psychology
Thesis Advisors
Block, Caryn J.
Degree
Ph.D., Teachers College, Columbia University
Published Here
June 4, 2019
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