Closing the Gender Gap

March 12, 2015 • Coaching, LEADERSHIP, Leadership Development, Women in Leadership

A growing body of research and anecdotal evidence shows a positive correlation between gender-balanced corporate leadership and organisational performance. Despite this, a significant gap persists in the upper echelons of many leading organisations.

According to 20-first’s‭ ‬2014 Global Gender Balance Scorecard‭, ‬which examines the gender balance within the executive committees of Fortune 100‭ ‬companies in the United States‭, ‬Europe and Asia‭, ‬women make up only 11‭ ‬percent of executive committee members globally‭. ‬In Europe‭, ‬just 29‭ ‬percent of Fortune 100‭ ‬companies reported having at least two women on their executive committees‭. ‬Of a total 1,025‭ ‬executive committee members reported by European survey participants‭, ‬only 10‭ ‬percent‭ (‬110‭) ‬were women‭. ‬None of the European companies surveyed had a female CEO‭.‬

Although the reasons behind this persistent gender gap are complex, one thing is clear: Organisations that invest in identifying and nurturing potential leaders of both genders are better positioned to close the gender gap in leadership. The benefits of a robust leadership development program can be enhanced through the addition of professional coaching. The reason for this is simple: When it comes to setting individuals and organisations up for success, professional coaching works.


Understanding Coaching

The International Coach Federation (ICF) defines coaching as partnering with clients in a thought-provoking and creative process that inspires them to maximise their personal and professional potential. Coaching is, by definition, different from other personal and organisational support interventions, such as consulting, mentoring, training and therapy. Coaches honor the client as the expert in his or her life and work and believe every client is creative, resourceful and whole. The professional coach’s responsibility is to:

• Discover, clarify, and align with what the client wants to achieve.

• Encourage client self-discovery.

• Elicit client-generated solutions and strategies.

• Hold the client responsible and accountable.

This process helps clients dramatically improve their outlook on work and life, while improving their leadership skills and unlocking their potential.


Diverse Motives, Exceptional Results

According to Building a Coaching Culture, a 2014 study of organisational coaching conducted by ICF and the Human Capital Institute, the top reason organisations utilise a coach practitioner is to improve their leadership development strategy. Other reasons include increasing employee engagement, improving communication skills, improving teamwork and increasing productivity.

Organisations that invest in identifying and nurturing potential leaders of both genders are better positioned to close the gender gap in leadership.

Whatever their reasons for choosing coaching, leaders and decision-makers within these organisations report high returns on investment and expectations. According to Building a Coaching Culture, 65 percent of employees are highly engaged in organisations with strong coaching cultures, compared to 52 percent of employees in other organisations. These organisations also report greater financial performance, with 60 percent exceeding their industry peer group in 2013 revenue compared to 41 percent of all others. Organisations offering coaching report a host of benefits, including:

• Improved team functioning

• Increased engagement

• Improved employee relations

• Increased commitment

• Faster leadership development

• Increased productivity


Taking the Next Step


If you’re considering coaching as a component of your organisation’s leadership development strategy, you may find it helpful to educate yourself and your employees about what coaching is and what it entails. ICF’s Research Portal (housed at is an excellent starting point for your research process, as it hosts dozens of scholarly articles and case studies that offer powerful insights into how coaching can be used in service of achieving strategic objectives.

Before you begin the process of implementing coaching, take the opportunity to reflect on your organisation’s strategic goals and the role coaching can play in achieving them. Because coaching is a partnership, you should also consider how much value you and your organisation place on collaboration, other viewpoints and new perspectives.

ICF and HCI offer several recommendations for organisations adding coaching to their talent-development portfolios:


Coaching often takes hold in organisations thanks to the buy-in of a well-respected senior leader who participates in a coaching relationship and touts its benefits organisation-wide. Ultimately, however, coaching should be provided across all levels of an organisation, to individuals of both genders and all ages and experience levels.


Many organisations with strong coaching cultures have achieved their goals by utilising a combination of external coach practitioners, internal coach practitioners and managers/leaders across the organisation who have been trained to use coaching skills in their daily interactions. For each modality, roles should be clearly defined, especially when it comes to delineating the differences between internal coach practitioners and managers/leaders using coaching skills.

According to Building a Coaching Culture, 65 percent of employees are highly engaged in organisations with strong coaching cultures, compared to 52 percent of employees in other organisations.


Adopt rigorous hiring practices for external coach practitioners. Ask each prospective coach about his or her coaching credentials and memberships in professional organisations. The ICF’s membership eligibility requirements make it very easy for you to make an informed decision. In addition to adhering to the stringent ICF Code of Ethics, ICF Members must commit to rigorous coach-specific training; as a result, consumers can have confidence that ICF Member coaches are well-trained and well-prepared to offer their services.

Possession of an ICF Credential is another clear sign of a coach’s willingness to take his or her professional performance to the next level. Currently, more than 14,000 individuals hold one of three ICF Credentials distinguishing themselves as consummate professionals.

If you are partnering with an ICF-credentialed coach you can be sure you’re working with the best in the industry. An ICF Credential-holder has fulfilled rigorous education and experience requirements and demonstrated a strong commitment to excellence in coaching. To be eligible for an ICF Credential, a coach must complete coach-specific training; achieve a designated number of coaching experience hours; partner with a Mentor Coach; and demonstrate the appropriate understanding and mastery of ICF’s definition of coaching, Code of Ethics and Core Competencies.

You may also find it helpful to know that industry research shows a positive link between coaches’ credentials and professional memberships, and their clients’ overall satisfaction with the coaching experience. According to the 2014 ICF Global Consumer Awareness Study, 93 percent of consumers who recalled that their coach held a credential or certification reported being “somewhat” or “very” satisfied with the coaching experience. According to the same study, 93 percent of consumers who recalled that their coach was a member of a professional coaching organisation reported satisfaction with the coaching engagement.

For internal coach practitioners and managers/ leaders using coaching skills, establish a training track and offer a coaching community of practice that allow them to participate in continuous coaching education.


Ensure that the importance your organisation places on coaching is reflected in your annual budget: Typically, organisations with strong coaching cultures maintain a dedicated line item for coaching. Take care as well to establish clear expectations for coaching outcomes, develop a coherent means of measuring coaching effectiveness and communicate the goals for coaching across your organisation.

To learn more about the findings from Building a Coaching Culture, visit


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