The Business Case for Inclusive Coaching

The Business Case for Inclusive Coaching

Everyone can rise above their circumstances and achieve success if they are dedicated to and passionate about what they do. It always seems impossible until it’s done. - Nelson Mandela

Diversity Alone Does Not Make Organisations More Effective

Equality & Diversity in the workplace emerged originally as a tool designed to pre-empt lawsuits based on the violation of human rights and civil rights. With the Equal Pay Act 1970, the Sex Discrimination Act 1975, and the Race Relations Act 1976 individuals were now supported to bring cases to Employment Tribunals and the courts in the United Kingdom. To protect themselves employers consequently updated their grievance systems and started to offer either voluntary or compulsory diversity training mainly centred on legislation and compliance.

Although nowadays there’s still a lot of talk on the legal aspects of equality in the workplace during the last 10 years, the main focus of the subject has shifted to diversity. The idea of having a more diverse workforce - one that better represents the diversity in society and is able to help organisations broaden their customers base and profits – started to be approached as a business strategy. DEI started being seen not as a legal risk but as a competitive advantage. Human Resources was then responsible for not only doing their best to create policies and procedures that could prevent lawsuits but to creating recruiting systems that could help organisations achieve better financial results via the diversification of their workforce. Challenges in the recruitment of new talents and retention were amplified by this new requirement.

However, organisations were then driven by the wrong expectation that diversity per se could bring financial benefits; contrary to popular belief, diverse teams do not naturally outperform homogeneous ones. That’s because a diverse team may not share the same culture, core values, communication, and thinking patterns. It’s easier to manage a team of similar individuals than diverse ones. What makes a high-performing team is inclusion. Inclusion can only be achieved when all the team players feel included or, in other words, when differences are acknowledged, accepted, and nurtured and people feel welcome to offer ideas and are encouraged to present different perspectives. Therefore, what makes high performing teams isn’t diversity, but inclusion. Teams of similar people who get along well outperform diverse teams, but – and here is the twist – teams of diverse people who get along well outperform all other teams.

Diversity Is Not About Protected Characteristics Only

Diversity has been treated so far as the process of bringing in people with protected characteristics to the workplace. It is much more than that, though. Diversity is about acknowledging that we are all unique beings with unique stories that shape our character, behaviour, beliefs, and views of the world. When organisations focus their DEI efforts on minority groups only, they are missing the opportunity to create a longlasting culture of inclusivity.

On one side, organisations must worry about creating systems based on equality of opportunities which means that sometimes equity principles must be put in place to ensure that all have equal access to these opportunities. However, once barriers to hiring and promoting diverse people are removed, the focus of any organisation should be on creating a sense of belonging that can only be achieved when all employees feel included. Belonging is about creating bridges that can lead employees to bond from an emotional point of view, where differences are not seen as a problem but, on the contrary, as a solution. Creating those bridges is the real challenge when it comes to DEI.

In a study called the Cyberball researchers asked participants to complete a simple task while having their brain activity monitored by a functional magnetic resonance imaging machine (fMRI). Their task, they were told, was to play a virtual ball-tossing game with two other subjects who were in separate rooms. What participants weren’t told is that they would in fact be playing with two computer avatars rather than the subjects in the other rooms. They didn’t know that the computer was programmed to toss the ball in a socially friendly way during the first few minutes and then only to its avatars, leaving the participant feeling excluded.

The researchers found that when excluded, the neural regions activated in response to the social pain of being left out overlapped almost perfectly with those activated in response to physical pain. In other words, feeling socially excluded does hurt! It hurts everyone, not only some of us. It’s worth mentioning that the pain caused by the experiment persisted even when participants were told that they played with the computer which had been programmed to exclude them, not with other human beings.

The Way Forward

Organisations should invest on the creation of a culture of inclusivity, where all employees are seen as part of their DEI efforts and feel valued for their uniqueness. They can start addressing the inclusivity challenge by offering tools that:

EMPOWER THE TEAM Establish a clear vision and sense of purpose by designing an inspiring DEI vision that creates a future every employee aspires to reach. What are organisations asking people to belong to and why?


BRING ABOUT A CULTURE OF CURIOSITY AND RESPECT FOR DIFFERENCES Inclusion can be created by intentionality when a common goal is purposefully shared. One of the common goals should be to create a culture where being connected is more important than being right and avoiding assumptions about people and showing curiosity to learn about them is the default behaviour expected.

CELEBRATE DIVERSITY AND UNIQUENESS A feel of inclusion can only be created when employees believe that they are welcomed for who they are and feel comfortable in showing vulnerabilities. Employees should be awarded and rewarded for showing self-awareness and sharing socially responsible ideas and attitudes that have a positive impact on the organisational culture and climate.

FOSTER THE USE OF A POSITIVE LANGUAGE STYLE Developing a compassionate and empathic communication style is paramount for an inclusive culture. Language can pretty much exacerbate old wounds and cause pain, but it can also create empathy and bonding. Language is power.

According to the McKinsey & Company 2020 report Diversity Wins: How Inclusion Matters, “while overall sentiment on diversity was 52 percent positive and 31 percent negative, sentiment on inclusion was markedly worse, at only 29 percent positive and 61 percent negative. This encapsulates the challenge that even the more diverse companies still face in tackling inclusion. Hiring diverse talent isn’t enough—it’s the workplace experience that shapes whether people remain and thrive.”

Expected Results

LESS STAFF TURNOVER AND HIGHER PROFITABILITY 61% of respondents of a survey conducted by Citation, said a hostile work environment would be a reason why they are likely to quit their job within the first year. 34% said that it’d take them 3 months in a job they dislike, to start looking elsewhere. That’s the impact a hostile environment can have on turnover and why it is so important for organisations to invest in inclusion and belongingness. Let’s not forget that turnover costs are high. The Work Institute’s 2019 retention report estimates that the cost to lose a U.S. worker is $15,000” or around 33% of a worker’s annual salary.

On the other hand, positive co-worker relationships create engagement; the word is used to refer to a setting where employees are “involved in, enthusiastic about, and committed to their work and workplace”. The 2017 Gallup report is very telling: “In high-turnover organizations, highly engaged business units achieve 24% less turnover. In low-turnover organizations, the gains are even more dramatic: Highly engaged business units achieve 59% less turnover”. Besides, “Engaged employees are more present and productive; they are more attuned to the needs of customers; and they are more observant of processes, standards, and systems. When taken together, the behaviours of highly engaged business units result in 21% greater profitability”.

GREATER INNOVATION According to the Delivering Through Diversity’s McKinsey & Company Report, companies in the top quartile for gender diversity are 21% more likely to deliver above-average profits than those in the bottom quartile. Those in the top quartile for ethnic diversity are 33% more likely to deliver above-average profits than the lowest quartile. The more diverse the team the greater the ability to innovate.

Research by Business Harvard Review concluded that by coupling diversity in leadership with market outcomes, companies with 2-D diversity out-innovate and outperform others. It was reported that these organizations are 45% likelier to report that their firm’s market share grew over the previous year, and 70% likelier to report that the organization captured a new market. This is possible when employees feel heard and welcomed to bring their unique perspectives forward.

DECREASED LEVELS OF ABSENTEEISM The CIPD Health and Wellbeing at work 2021 research shows that stress continues to be one of the main causes of short and long-term absence from work. Overall, nearly four-fifths (79%) of respondents report some stress-related absence in their organisation over the last year (9% don’t know), and this rises to 91% of organisations with more than 250 employees. An inclusive organisation can help decrease levels of absenteeism by creating a culture of mental wellbeing.

Inclusion is fostered by the creation of acceptance, respect for differences, and healthy relationships with peers and management, contributing to a less stressful environment. It can be both cause and consequence of mental wellbeing in the workplace.

The Benefits of Inclusive Coaching

COMPETITIVE ADVANTAGE Competitors are still very much focused on matters of diversity. Offering a solution on inclusivity puts organisations one step ahead, and helps them stand out in the market.

INNOVATION Inclusive coaching offers a different approach to DEI where the primary focus shifts from compliance, creating diversity and retention strategies, to compliance, creating diversity, and delivering inclusive practices backed by behavioural science for all employees.

"In the context of the workplace, diversity equals representation. Without inclusion, however, the crucial connections that attract diverse talent, encourage their participation, foster innovation, and lead to business growth won't happen." Harvard Business Review, Diversity Doesn't Stick Without Inclusion

LOW-COST SOLUTION Inclusive coaching can support the development of strategic planning focused on DEI vision and values; broaden internal stakeholders’ views of the world, and of what DEI is about; help implement cross-cultural and compassionate communication skills; enhance appreciation and respect for cultural differences; and implement a long-lasting culture that fosters engagement and social accountability, without losing focus on performance.

These can all be achieved from the re-design and application of pre-existent coaching strategies and tools, avoiding the costs and stress of the design, development, and implementation of a complex organisational culture transformation project. Furthermore, the results of inclusive coaching are naturally multiplied over time with focus on the creation of new personal habits and values, that impact behavior and the organizational culture consequently, without the need for new investments.

EASILY EVALUATED The positive impact of inclusive coaching can be evaluated not only via qualitative research methods which can be difficult to translate into business language sometimes, but via quantitative research methods as well, with the use of performance measures (KPIs) and goal-setting, for instance.

Gloria Ribeiro is a passionate EDI Consultant and Social Entrepreneur. She is the Diversity & Inclusion Head Coach and Managing Director at The Happiness Revolution®, a Fellow of the Chartered Management Institute (FCMI), and a Member of the EMCC (UK) National Diversity, Equity, Inclusion and Belonging Working Group.


Being inclusive is one of the core values of EMCC UK upholds through the professional behaviour of its membership. This article is the first in a regular series helping mentors, coaches and supervisors to learn and develop a deeper understanding of Diversity, Equity, Inclusion and Belonging. To learn more and find out how to take an active role supporting our #StandTogether campaign please email [email protected].