An exploration of the leadership journeys of black women executives-implications for coaching

Diseko, Gaahele Salome Sylvia
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This qualitative study explored the leadership journeys of black women executives (BWEs), to understand those elements they perceived to enable and those they perceived to inhibit their career progression, as well as to establish implications for coaching. Eighteen participants were interviewed. The sample included BWEs who had been coached, those who had not, human resources managers, and line managers to create some triangulation. The BWEs were all in the top two organisational levels, as defined by the Employment Equity Act. A semi-structured interview guide was utilised for the BWEs and another for HR and line managers. Interviews were recorded, transcribed, and uploaded into ATLAS.ti analysis software. Coding was conducted inductively to identify themes that emerged. The study highlighted the importance of ensuring that all parties to the coaching intervention are fully briefed, aligned, and coaching-ready before implementation. If readiness is not ensured, the process can be negatively affected. A key finding was that a minimum of a bachelor’s degree, but preferably a postgraduate degree, enabled the career progression of BWEs. Once in the workplace BWEs need to continue with self-development. Elements that were found to enable career progression for BWEs were hard work, networking, self-development, and access to mentors. Resilience was found to be important in managing the challenges the BWEs’ experience in the workplace. Elements that inhibit BWEs’ career progression were found to be lack of implementation of employment equity (EE) or transformation in the workplace. It was also found that BWEs operate in challenging work environments where they experience marginalisation, stereotyping, and racism. Work-life integration is an issue as they are the homemakers. Another key finding was that coaching could contribute to BWEs’ career progression. It is important that all parties in the process are coaching-ready. It was also found that coaching heightened resilience for BWEs. Coaching was shown to be utilised for leadership development, including improving communication skills. Line managers were unsure of the objectives for which their BWE charges were being coached. This highlighted the importance of aligning all parties and ensuring coaching readiness before coaching implementation. This point is also important because to be successful, coaching needs the support of organisational leadership. It was encouraging to realise that the line managers viewed coaching as confidential between coach and coachee; however, they appeared to have had no input into development needs identification. This could point to a missed opportunity to align coaching with business needs. The intrapersonal skills of self-confidence and self-awareness were shown to have been developed through coaching. These skills are vital to effective leadership. The BWEs’ experiences of coaching were found to be challenging, and uncomfortable, and BWEs found that the coach did not understand or trivialised the coachee’s issues. Coaching conversations are meant to be challenging, however too much challenge can derail the process. BWEs experienced coaching as uncomfortable because the conversation delved directly into deep personal issues without preparing the coachee or building rapport and a trusting relationship. Two BWEs felt that their coaches had trivialised or misunderstood their issues. The finding that line managers were unaware of the development needs being addressed in their BWEs’ coaching, the BWEs’ experiences of discomfort in the coaching process, and coachees feeling that the coach had trivialised the coachee’s issues, highlights the important matter of coaching readiness. Coaching readiness is important to the success of any coaching engagement. Without participants being fully ready for coaching, the process might be compromised. Coaching was found to be an appropriate tool for leadership development and improving the career progression prospects of BWEs. It was also found that it is important to ensure that every party to the coaching is coaching ready.
A research report submitted to the Faculty of Commerce, Law and Management, University of the Witwatersrand, in partial fulfilment of the requirements for the degree of Master of Management in Business and Executive Coaching Johannesburg, 2017
Diseko, Gaahele Salome Sylvia (2017) An exploration of the leadership journeys of black women executives-implications for coaching, University of the Witwatersrand, Johannesburg, <>