Posted: 16 Sep. 2019 05 min. read

Coaching for diversity and inclusion

Reflections from an Executive Coach

Deloitte Partner and Executive Coach, Karen Stein, provides practical insights for building inclusive leadership capability, drawing from her experience as the lead of Deloitte Australia’s female partner coaching program.

Many organisations are increasing the number of diversity and inclusion information programs, to better equip their leaders as inclusive leaders. Coaching for diversity and inclusion can complement such programs and support leaders, by building upon their own self-awareness, mindfulness, and capacity to act.  

There are many coaching conversations to be held, so where should you start? The two examples of coaching conversation starters below can assist with drawing leaders’ attention to how they enable diversity and inclusion. 

Conversation 1: Notice your team

Many leaders believe that they know their team well, and engage with them in an equitable manner. Yet how true is this? The coaching exercises below can provide a leader with insights regarding how they are (or are not) enabling diversity and inclusion within their team. Leaders who ensure team justice and equity enable members to feel valued and included (Randel et al, 2018). 

Exercise 1:  Team Composition

• List your team members on a page.

• What do you notice about how similar each team member is to yourself in terms of culture, gender, background, working style and experience?

• Consider what you know about each team member. Do you know more about those who are similar to you? How could you broaden your knowledge regarding all team members to better understand who they are, their unique skills and strengths, and what motivates them?

• Consider the opportunities you are providing to differing team members. How often are you consciously engaging all team members in opportunities to bring out the best in each of them?

• Take action – Utilise these insights to consider the team composition. How can you generate a dialogue that better informs you about each team member’s interests, skills, aspirations and development areas? What actions can you take to alter the diversity of your team (and bring in different points of view, learnings, creativity, and innovation)? 

Exercise 2:  Unconscious Bias

• Consider how you respond to your team members.  

• When those team members who are most similar to you don’t perform as expected, how often do you excuse or rationalise their behaviour?  “They haven’t performed at their best, but I know they could do better”.

• Compare it to those who are less similar to you. When these team members don’t perform to expectations, how often does this confirm your expectations (or unconscious bias) towards them? “That’s exactly why I don’t tend to get them involved”.

• Listen to your language. Is it always referencing the masculine? ‘He’, ‘him’ etc. Consider how you can use language to be more inclusive. 

Conversation 2: Deliberately seek out difference 

Leaders are best positioned to influence which team members have the opportunity to be invited to the table and given a chance to participate. Valuing the perspectives of people on the periphery of your network is a powerful tool to enrich diversity and inclusion (Randel et al., 2018). A coach can engage in a reflective coaching conversation to assist a leader with noticing how they are seeking out difference.

How might this play out in a coaching conversation?  

Contributions to group discussions: 

• As a leader, notice how often you are role modelling inclusive behaviours by consciously seeking input from team members during meetings. How are you recognising which team members have contributed during a meeting, and which have not? How are you clearing ‘space’ for them, free from interruption, or dismissal by others?

• Role modelling communication which moves away from a limited communication style (where people tell each other what they individually know) to a conversation where team members demonstrate that they hear and build upon differing points of view, will enable the pursuit of a rich conversation that represents the group’s collective, integrated thinking. 

Speaking panels and team selection: 

• Leaders should run the ruler over the make-up of speaking panels and team selection to ensure the inclusion of diverse representation.  Consider how you are drawing your attention to your proposed panels or teams. If there are a pair of speakers, who speaks first and who speaks second? Are speakers talking about stereotypical topics (eg men finance, women HR). Do the panellists/members all look and sound the same? How might this limit diversity and creative thinking? How might you be proactive in altering its representation?

Supplementing corporate diversity and inclusion information sessions with coaching conversations will support the development of leaders in turning their mind to the impact that they are having. These initial coaching conversations can assist a leader with noticing their ‘blind spots’, supporting them to make choices that enable the creation of a more diverse and inclusive workplace (Bourke & Espedido, 2019).


Bourke, J. & Espedido, A. (2019). Why inclusive leaders are good for organizations and how to become one. Retrieved from:

Randel, A E., Galvin, B. G., Shore, L. M., Ehrhart, K. C., Chung, B. G., Dean, M. A., & Kedharnath, U. (2018). Inclusive leadership: Realizing positive outcomes through belongingness and being valued for uniqueness. Human Resource Management Review, 28(2), 190-203. 

For more information, contact Karen Stein

Meet our author

Karen Stein

Karen Stein

Partner - Executive Coach

  Karen is an experienced Executive Coach, providing solution-focused, evidenced-based cognitive behavioural coaching, to support Executives with successfully attaining their professional goals. She has 30 years of professional services experience, in the field of taxation. With 21 years as a Partner of Deloitte, (and as a mother of two teenage boys), Karen has a rich understanding of the complexities and dynamics of organisational systems. Her ability to couple this with her understanding of positive psychology coaching theories (obtained through her Master of Science in Coaching Psychology) provides a unique platform from which to coach in an organizational context. Karen is passionate about leadership effectiveness and improving the impact, which can result when leading corporate teams. Through collaborating with those she coaches, she assists in their discovery of insights and options, which leads to their greater success. Karen leads Deloitte Australia’s Female Partner Coaching Program.