Every new business leader faces challenges when acclimating to a role.
Though equipped for market volatility and other bottom-line challenges, complex corporate environments sometimes throw new leaders into a high-stakes game. Executive coaching can serve as an invaluable tool to help new leaders navigate these waters and achieve success.
Unfortunately, Black executives don’t often get the support and advocacy they need to succeed. Their inability to assimilate and quickly thrive is often misdiagnosed as poor work habits. It’s crucial to understand the difference between indolence and disorientation. The latter is fixable with executive coaching that empowers rather than punishes
Black professionals are too-often judged as incapable, not a good “fit,” or perceived as not having good work habits before leaders get to know them or understand the unique challenges within their organizations that impede their progress. In our diversity analytics practice at Elloree Talent Strategies, we’ve found that Black talent almost exclusively has the lowest scores across nearly all measures in the human resources (HR) lifecycle.
Our independent equity assessments have found that 75% or more of the time, qualified Black applicants are screened out early in the recruiting process. In 90% of our assessments, Black talent rates as the lowest performers of all diverse cohorts. These insights are consistent, no matter the industry or company size. From small regional organizations to Fortune 100s, the fact is that Black talent is unfairly left behind.
We’ve seen progress on the diversity and inclusion front, but there’s still a long way to remedy existing inequities. Representation of Black professionals at the executive and senior management levels hovers around 3.2%. There are only six Black Fortune 500 CEOs. Many Black professionals are still the “only” within their department or team, or one of very few.
Some organizations still don’t have executive coaching as part of their talent management strategy. Others view executive coaching as a performance remediation tool rather than a resource for supporting talent with the potential for even greater levels of success. Many of the best CEOs and C-Suite leaders have had and still have executive coaches support their success.
If they don’t have a formal coach, they have a network of other mentors and sponsors as advisors and sounding boards for navigating the corporate landscape. Black leaders don’t have anywhere near that level of formal or organic support, and often don’t know how or what to ask for. Many Black professionals that we speak with are reluctant to ask for a coach, fearing that it makes them appear weak — creating a cycle of inaction.
Coaching is needed the most in times of change — when assimilating to a new organization, being assigned to a more prominent role or team, or becoming a new boss. To flourish as a leader, it helps to be coached by someone who has been where you’re trying to go and to whom you can relate. Someone you trust and can be truly honest with and will understand what you’re experiencing. This is not to say that all up-and-coming Black leaders must have Black coaches — the dearth of diverse leadership would make this scenario impossible. That’s unnecessary, but experience and awareness matter. If the right mentor and protégé match isn’t in an organization, organizations should look outside.
Companies must commit to cultivating an environment that doesn’t tolerate tokenism or acquiesce to the idea that only white executives can perform at the highest level. It is a lazy and ineffective credo that reaps few rewards and very few benefits for the company or diverse members of its workforce. The solution is an intentional effort to diversify the leadership coaching pool with new leaders from diverse backgrounds and a unique cultural lens. It’s entirely possible to facilitate quick learning cycles and advancement for Black professionals with the right coaching.
White managers sometimes have blind spots or are unaware of their organic advantages. They may feel everyone can navigate corporate America the same way they do. Without sharp awareness of cultural setbacks, ancestral context and differences, they may not be the sounding board or right guide Black executives need (even if they mean well).
We want C-Suite leaders to ask themselves the following questions before dismissing Black talent as not being up to the task:
– Is my talent management strategy focused on identifying embedded inequities for diverse talent?
– Does my talent management strategy include coaching resources for top diverse talent with potential?
– Does the pool of coaching resources include experienced, diverse coaches?
If the answer to any of these questions is “no,” please consider immediate changes to your talent management strategy, ensuring that Black talent is provided with equitable opportunities for leadership growth.
Valerie Irick Rainford is a veteran executive, sought-after speaker, award-winning author, and purpose-driven entrepreneur. She is the founder of Elloree Talent Strategies, a leadership consulting firm that advises C-suite executives on Advancing Black Talent.