Coaching women in(to) leadership

Diversity means excellence

Toward a productive and inclusive future

Despite all progress attributed to the twenty-first century, gender equity remains a sizeable challenge in academia and beyond. Retaining female talent across STEMM disciplines (science, technology, engineering, mathematics, and medicine) is now a top priority for many Australian universities, research institutes, and government science organisations.

The statistics: only 17% of senior academics are women, down from over 50% of female PhD graduates and early career researchers in the sciences. Many other academic disciplines are similarly affected. So what happens en route to academic leadership? Why do so many women still exit the career pipeline at crucial junctures in their professional lives? These questions drive much research and advocacy worldwide.

If we disenfranchise half of our population, then I think we live in a society that’s not as decent as it should be.

Professor Doug Hilton, Director, Walter and Eliza Hall Institute of Medical Research (see SAGE publicity video here)

In the Australian context, SAGE (Science in Australia Gender Equity) – an initiative by the Australian Academy of Science, run in partnership with the Australian Academy of Technology and Engineering (ATSE) – is devoted to finding answers to these questions, and to driving system-wide culture change. In 2015, they launched the SAGE Pilot of the well-known Athena SWAN Charter, an evaluation and accreditation program that has been running for over a decade in the UK, with tremendous success in enhancing gender equity in STEMM disciplines.

Through Bronze, Silver, and Gold Awards, the Charter recognises excellence in employment practices that advance and promote the careers of women and gender minorities in STEMM subjects. The Athena SWAN Charter is governed by 10 principles which encourage institutions to ensure that women from diverse backgrounds as well as underrepresented groups are best positioned to reach their full potential. The SAGE Pilot has adapted the UK processes for the Australian context. (Learn more about the SAGE Pilot here.)

This and other welcome initiatives reflect the now broadly accepted view that large-scale, cultural, and systemic shifts are required to improve the representation of women in academia, and in STEMM disciplines in particular.

Academia cannot reach its full potential unless it can benefit from the talents of all.

Athena SWAN Charter, Principle 1

How can coaching help?

So what role might coaching play in organisations’ journeys toward greater diversity, and to gender equity in particular? Coaching alone – centred as it often is on the individual – cannot address systemic bias, or fix an entrenched culture with deep historical roots. This must be done through system-wide measures at the organisational and policy level. But coaching can support individuals – including and especially women – to mitigate the impact of this system on their lives and careers, and help them critically assess the barriers that often seem to prevent transition into senior leadership roles.

By working with existing leaders, male and female, coaching can also lay the ground for creating culture change from the top through exploration of leaders’ own biases and beliefs, as well as through conscious adoption and role modelling of inclusive policies and practices. And finally, once women reach senior leadership roles, targeted coaching programs can provide the necessary reflective space for them to navigate an often adverse cultural landscape, and to execute their roles with confidence, success, and satisfaction.

Common focus areas in coaching women

Over the years of coaching early- and mid-career women academics through a number of university programs aimed at supporting their performance and development, common themes have emerged in our coaching practice. These themes are broad, overarching focus areas, which comfortably coexist with the wondrous uniqueness of each person and her individual goals and challenges.

Broad themes that recur in coaching include women’s desire to improve their assertiveness skills – to better set boundaries, to say “no”, to delegate, and to make and implement hard decisions – as well as reflections on career needs and values: Do I belong here? Where do I want to be in five years, or in ten? Is this what I want to do, and how I want to do it? Are my needs being met, and if so, are they being met resourcefully or not?

We combine coaching for skills, performance, and development to meet clients’ diverse needs on their leadership journeys. As a company equipped to provide not only people development but also specialist communications services, we easily transition between our coaching, training, and text minding work to provide holistic support to the individuals and organisations that partner with us.

Are you interested in learning more about these coaching services?

Contact us today to discuss your needs.