Peer Coaching for Women in Middle Management

ISSUE: Despite great social and professional gains for women, none of us is satisfied with the rate of our advancement into the senior ranks of our organisations. It needs to increase. As the research shows, professional networks are on the mind of any woman (or organisation) who is serious about tapping into the full potential of women at work. But growing a network that lives up to its potential, and provides the kind of support that women are looking for, is easier said than done. To succeed in getting talented women through the high-attrition phase of middle management, networks need to be made up of women who are expert in mutual support. Easy? Yes - with the support of a coach who is expert in group coaching and women's leadership.
DERAILMENT RISKS FOR WOMEN IN MIDDLE MANAGEMENT:
  • Poor work/life balance – juggling too much and prioritizing without real choice
  • Lack of resilience – difficulties restoring internal poise following confrontation, crisis or disappointment at work
  • Failure to persist – pulling back from visibility and excellence within the complex operating environment of the public service
  • Low confidence and assertiveness, particularly in environments perceived as “masculine”
  • Lack of confidence and assertiveness, particularly in environments perceived as “masculine”
  • Stalled emotional intelligence – including confusion about when to skilfully deploy “masculine” or “feminine” behaviours.
PROPOSAL: Coaching interventions, including peer coaching work, help women to address the challenges that come with seniority. It can help to build a departmental culture where women are not only expected and encouraged to succeed from middle management into senior management – but also where women learn the skills to support each other towards greater personal effectiveness.
OUTCOMES: The peer coaching process offers participants an increased capacity to engage with self and others. It also allows for the formation of trust and strong social bonds, setting the group up to engage deeply for change, and to continue informally beyond the life of the coaching program - independently of the coach. These outcomes are protective factors against attrition of women in middle management: a stressed woman executive who can fall back on the support of a network which has become skilled in mutual support is less likely to derail, and more likely to craft a satisfying professional life that will see her stay, and succeed at work.
METHOD: A relatively new learning and development method, peer coaching brings a maximum ten people (none of whom are in a supervision relationship) together for 90-120 minutes to progress professional goals. This format harnesses the knowledge of each person in the group toward problem solving. It creates an empowering environment where people learn about agreed topics from each other over a specified period of time and commit to bold action at work with the support and accountability of the group. Personal and group goals are developed by peer participants in a discussion facilitated by the coach (following consultation with the responsible Human Resources professional). Typically, the group meets monthly for ten months.
WHILE THE DETAILED CURRICULUM IS AGREED WITH HR AND PARTICIPANTS, THE PEER COACHING ARC IS BROADLY AS FOLLOWS:
  • Session I (Introductory Session) settles the topics and ground rules for Peer coaching (including confidentiality and mutual accountability).
  • Sessions II – IX (Developmental Sessions) introduce challenges (including homework) and facilitated discussion around the topics. Tools for self-management and awareness are introduced and discussed, and each participant has an opportunity to present on their topic and progress.
  • Session X (Conclusion) consolidates learnings, reflects on gains and sets further challenges.
The length of the program allows for change to be sustained beyond the life of the coaching program.
WHO WILL DO WELL IN PEER COACHING? Peer coaching is demanding for the coach and the participants. It works best with people with a high level of motivation and who are not in a supervision relationship with anyone else in the group. It requires an interest in working on professional challenges and an interest in examining current habits (mental, emotional and behavioural) to find possibilities for change. It requires “ripeness” – an openness to work with others and to work towards a comfortable level of transparency about your internal and external processes. Commitment to attend each session is essential for the success of each participant, as well as for the group as a whole.
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