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Why women need a coach

April 22, 2021 - 9 min read

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What the data say — Where do women grow more?

Why how women grow differently matters

Take action

Is it 1988 again? You might think so based on the participation rate of women in the workforce —  equal now to the rate 33 years ago. Companies have lost a lot of women. And companies will likely continue to lose women according to a study by McKinsey and LeanIn.Org. 

The challenges of the moment disproportionately affect women and have led to many leaving or scaling back their work. For companies looking toward the future, the importance of supporting women right now cannot be overstated.

The good news? When women have a coach, they reap benefits — just like men do. They build skills and achieve growth across a range of behaviors associated with both inspiring leadership and personal thriving. 

For example, women gain skills at the same rate as men in most leadership skill areas. They grow in meaning and purpose, job satisfaction, and life satisfaction. In fact, there is not a single skill where, when given a coach, men achieve higher growth than women. 

But, interestingly, there are areas where women grow more relative to men. Women may be disproportionately negatively affected right now, but they also have disproportionate potential to be positively affected by personalized support. 

BetterUp Labs looked at the experiences of 440 women who had BetterUp coaching access through their organizations. All were part of programs specifically designed to support women leaders. We compared the experience of these women against our general Member population. 

We tracked how these women used coaching — and changed through coaching — over a period of four months. 

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What the data say — Where do women grow more?

The women receiving coaching grew more, achieving disproportionate results, in four areas: 

  1. Physical thriving
  2. Self-awareness
  3. Inclusive leadership 
  4. Employee experience

 

We also found that these women participated in 14% more sessions than the general Member population. That reflects a greater commitment to making use of the opportunity.

Why how women grow differently matters 

  • Women had outsized growth in self-awareness, and that might be critical. Women, more than men, gain a new sense of consciousness and self-understanding in coaching. This may be the key that unlocks their parallel outsized growth in physical thriving. With a coach, many women more fully realize the importance of self-care and their own physical well-being and have the opportunity to recognize how much they have not prioritized it. Coaching may help women see physical well-being as an equally valid priority and a necessary building block for showing up at their best and sustaining performance across all of life’s roles.
  • Women also grew disproportionately in inclusive leadership. One interpretation might be that coaching differentially opens awareness about inclusive behaviors. Historically, women have had to fight their own battle for air time, monitor to receive equitable judgment and treatment, and work to get their own seat at the table. Vigilant to their own performance and treatment, women may not have focused on how they as leaders can lift up others and include all voices. 
  • An alternative interpretation is that, for other reasons, men may be lacking in their growth in inclusive leadership. It’s a question that merits further exploration.
  • Coaching is also more tightly tied to the overall employee experience for women than for men. Combined with the data showing a gender gap in access to coaching, an interesting story emerges: women not only want coaching more, we are seeing that they use coaching more, and in some ways even benefit more. 
 

Take action

These data suggest that if your organization wants a safe bet on professional development investment, participation, usage, or engagement — give women coaches. If your organization is concerned with results and impact from a coaching investment — give women coaches. If your organization is concerned about the great female recession — give women coaches. 

Coaching makes a significant difference in how women experience the workplace. The report from McKinsey suggests that women’s perceptions about bias and judgment have been partially behind the mass exit from the workforce. Those pressures may be even higher for senior-level women. Imagine the impact it might have if the message women received from their organizations was more clearly shifted from “prove yourself” to “we support you”? 

We have an opportunity, now, to emerge from this crucible to new ways of work, new mindsets, and new approaches to the ongoing and systemic problems around gender. Like many have said, we won’t be going back to “normal”. Let’s take action now to design a better new normal. One where women get the support they need.

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Published April 22, 2021

Erin Eatough, PhD

Sr. Insights Manager

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