Time for inclusive career coaching

by Aug 18, 2020

Inclusive career coaching ensures we reach everyone

Quite often we see a one-size fits all career advice, which doesn’t suit everyone.  It’s time for inclusive career coaching


Have you ever been to an exercise class where the instructor divides you into capability categories? They ask right at the beginning if there are any mitigating health issues: bad knee, bad back, bad.. everything.

In group one you have the ones that can bend like a pretzel and run 20K without breaking a sweat. We all secretly hate them, but wish we could be them. They get the advanced moves.

Category two is intermediate. They are happy with some sophisticated twists and try not to look pink after 5K.

Then there is the basic group, where a stroll to the cafeteria counts as aerobic exercise and strength training includes changing the printer paper. Sometimes we might feel a bit sore or uncomfortable and the instructor will suggest a minor tweak to make it easier, but still effectively hit the target area.

I have yet to find a group where you can exercise lying down with a book and a glass of Chablis. But it’s a work in progress.


Avoid generic one size fits all

 We need to start applying the same distinctions to career coaching. Why? Because not everyone has the same self-awareness, capability level, the same personality, gender,  backgrounds or even the same inclination to follow frequently recommended advanced or alpha strategies. Organisations were set up by men, to suit men and we are still churning our advice to help job seekers fit in.

Quite often we see one-size-fits-all career advice, which doesn’t sit right for for everyone, suggesting it’s time to offer more diverse and inclusive career strategies. Very often clients don’t realise they are “sore” until they have to do something that makes them feel uncomfortable. Some of us live in cultures where “feeling the fear and doing it anyway” is encouraged. But sometimes what job seekers need is a minor, but effective tweak that will help them reach their required goal, but perhaps a little bit later.


I find myself increasingly dealing with clients who are confused and overwhelmed as the number of “career coaches” post pandemic increases exponentially.  In my network I have 900,000. The last three digits is not a typo.  Many haven’t worked in recruitment either in- house or agency. Some use the fact they have been job seekers themselves and use that as a stand-alone qualification. It’s not always.

Most career advice is given to help people succeed in male coded organisations which reward extroverted, go-getting personalities. There are also strong cultural differences and what might be perceived as dynamic in one environment, is received as being pushy and over the top in another.  We have to recognise that not all job seekers fall into the same category, so as career coaches we should try to avoid generic advice and offer alternative and even customised approaches to meet the same goal.

This is not to say that some of the dynamic suggestions don’t or won’t work. Generic tips may help a number of people so for some they may, but for many they are not appropriate. What it suggests is that strategies need to be broken down to offer a range of options to make career coaching more inclusive. So job seekers get confused when they see binary instructions of don’t/never/always etc.  We have to start making room for “well…it depends.”


inclusive career strategies

Advanced strategies

These are generally higher risk moves which suit more extraverted personalities and only work in cultures and organisations where this behaviour is acceptable and rewarded. They can involve suggestions to job seekers which include:

  • By-passing HR and pitching directly to the CEO – this is bold and may work in a small flat organisation but unlikely to succeed in a large corporate setting. You may encounter gate keepers or get bumped to HR anyway, who you now may have unwittingly upset. You need to have a high level of confidence, skills or smarts to overcome those challenges. This will NOT work in some cultures and organisations, especially top down and high context cultures.
  • Tracking down hiring managers using Mailscoop.io or similar to send an email with pitch. This also by-passes HR and may nor may not work.
  • Video CVs  – can be very successful if done well and a supplement to a regular CV. But they have to be done well.
  • Turning up in person at an office (yes really I have seen that recommended even during COVID19) This is very bold and I probably wouldn’t recommend, but it could work for a start-up maybe. Otherwise you may find yourself having an encounter with security and a pavement.
  • Confident assertive interview style with pre-prepared business plan related improving the organisation’s results or solving a specific problem.

Other factors to consider

We have to factor in that not everyone will fall into the bold, out-going risk-taking demographic. We have to take into account all our differences: personality types, cultural backgrounds, communication styles, gender, ethnicity, age, or different career points.

1. Cultural differences

Not all cultures value an assertive approach and a job seeker can experience push back. It is also not diverse.  When candidates experience a negative reaction it damages their confidence and even their reputation. Some cultures have a high regard for hierarchy and systems. They expect deference and respect to individuals in position of authority and their systems to be followed.  The casual, informal confidence and individualism found in some male-coded Anglo-Saxon organisations, doesn’t always go down well in other geographies. This behaviour can be perceived as being brash and arrogant, rather than go-getting and dynamic.

Some cultures still expect a photo with a CV, while other cultures discourage women from putting a photo on their LinkedIn profile. For some large bureaucratic organisations, particularly in the Third Sector,  the cover letter can be a deal enhancer. Others don’t care

2. Gender bias

Assertive, confident, ambitious men are rewarded and admired. All our systems are geared towards this type of personality particularly the interview system which is recognised to be highly flawed. Here we see confidence and charisma bias in full force.  Women who follow that same advice can be impacted by gender bias and called “aggressive” and “pushy” for exhibiting the same behaviour. People of colour are considered “uppity.”

It’s important that coaches understand their own biases and those found in the system and factor them into the coaching relationship to prepare their clients for encountering them in the hiring process.

3Plus has a wealth of free services and podcasts that help with career development. We invite you to try them HERE.

3. Personality types

Introverts in particular struggle with this type of direct and open approach. They prefer a lower key, more subtle route of following a contact on LinkedIn before connecting and possibly interacting in a discussion thread. But even for some this is a huge step. The thought of a direct, personal pitch would fill them with horror, even in writing, but especially face to face.

4. Age

Different age groups have different experience levels and struggle with confidence for being too young and inexperienced or too old. Here network referrals, talking to people and informational interviews can be helpful to gain an insight into an organisation’s culture.  Both younger and older age groups quite often prefer something that is more gradual and discreet, where someone makes an introduction.

5. Point in career

I have seen individuals at different points in their career change their approach. For some they may think they have nothing to lose. They just think “what the hell” and take that leap. But for others there maybe factors which require them to be more cautious. They may be the sole revenue generator, or have specific family or caring circumstances to consider. Perhaps there are location or relocation elements or fringe benefits to take into account such as commuting distance or access to childcare.

It is OK so consider a “low-ball” offer in the short term if you have bills to pay.

6. Unemployment bias

A different approach can also be helpful for the unemployed, when some job seekers feel uncomfortable announcing their lack of employment because of unemployment bias. We have seen career coaches and recruiters coming out vocally against the #ONO hashtag and green circle on LinkedIn which embeds bias even further. In a global depression, this is frankly ridiculous.  Some ATS still require a placeholder (recruiters should do something about that). Andy Benson  went for “House Manager and Interim Teacher” and I saw another “Enforced Sabbatical.”  I loved both of those, but I do think “COVID Casualty” should be acceptable.

By offering more inclusive career coaching and recognising that bias exists in all our systems and that a single approach will not work, coaches will reach a greater number of job seekers who feel more vulnerable and lack confidence.  If they build in some nuance and offer multiple options to account for different circumstances, they will help them feel less overwhelmed and panic stricken. Some of these gung-ho ideas can be damaging.

The career sector needs to speak up

Above all career coaches need to start speaking up against these biases – some are hidden and some are blatantly open. By offering workarounds we embed  them even more and then we are part of the problem.


If you are unsure about your career strategy needs get in touch today!





Dorothy Dalton Administrator
Dorothy Dalton is CEO of 3Plus International. A specialist in diversity and bias conscious executive search, she supports organizations to achieve business success via gender balance, diversity and inclusion. She is CIPD qualified, and a certified coach and trainer including digital learning.
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