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Dr Sally Hanna Performance coaching for professional working mothers

The best kept secret to reducing the

gender pay gap

We know that gender diversity at the very top of an organisation not only enhances creativity, decision-making, and profitability but also promotes a much more inclusive culture within the organisation.

We also know that unfortunately, but perhaps not surprisingly, women have been disproportionately affected by the pandemic because of the types of industries hardest hit and because of the need for childcare provision. According to data from the IFS and OECD, even those mothers fortunate enough to be able to work from home during the pandemic found the burden of domestic duty fell on them.

This  decline in gender equality as a result of the pandemic is likely to have a significant long term impact on women’s financial independence and professional potential with some women retraining or never returning to work, widening the already large gender pay gap in the UK.

The gender pay gap

The UK has had mandatory gender pay gap reporting for organisations employing at least 250 people since 2017. Although there has clearly been improvement, the Hampton-Alexander review confirms the pace of change is too slow. In addition, gender pay gap reporting for 2020 has been suspended because of the pandemic and I am concerned that the economic fallout risks sidelining gender equality initiatives even further.

We are fortunate in the UK as closing the pay gap does not require further education of women, but it does require a shift in attitudes towards gender roles and an investment of time and money by employers.

However, recruitment of female talent is only part of the problem- progression of female talent is key and retention post motherhood even more so in some professions including law. Even allowing for the disproportionately large number of women in part-time secretarial roles in law firms, the gender pay gap is clearly present and this is mirrored in many other industries.

Where are we going wrong?

Year-on-year more public companies from around the world qualify for the annual international Bloomberg Gender Equality Index as they understand they have a social responsibility to help close the gender pay gap.

There are many actions that employers take to achieve this, for example mentoring schemes (including reverse mentoring), advocates and affinity groups for women. Others include using gender neutral language in job descriptions, unconscious bias training and offering agile working and shared parental leave.  Although positive, these initiatives are not enough on their own as they do not represent a holistic approach to professional development and do not empower individual women to advance in their careers.

Coaching offers a faster pace of sustainable change for women but in most organisations this is reserved for high performing senior employees at key stages of transition. Coaching women at the top, although very welcome, can only have a small impact on the gender pay gap in the short term and will not ensure a sustainable pipeline of female talent for the future.

Moreover some organisations offer only internal coaching. Internal coaches have greater insight into the culture of the organisation but being coached by a colleague may restrict how openly an employee speaks and how deeply they engage with the coaching process.

What is performance coaching?

Coaching is a series of supported, structured and thought-provoking conversations aimed at growing self-awareness, self-esteem and self-regulation and empowering action to improve personal and professional performance. Relationships with others are also positively impacted both in the workplace and at home which improves wellbeing and resilience.

Coaching is not about acquiring specific work-related skills - mentoring is more appropriate for this. A greater understanding of what coaching involves and how it differs to mentoring can be found here.

Start early – invest in coaching lower down the corporate ladder

Organisations which are committed to gender equality, diversity and inclusion should introduce coaching to working mothers lower down the corporate ladder. Here, the pressures of juggling work and childcare are often intense and there is a risk of disengagement, falling performance and the eventual loss of these women from organisations and professions.

Therefore coaching these women would enhance career progression, retention and recruitment and develop a pipeline of female talent for future leadership roles. It would also make them feel valued and committed to their progression within the organisation. I strongly believe this would significantly reduce the gender pay gap in the short term and help to secure the future for female talent, with a better gender balance across all levels and industries.

From my experience of coaching professional working mothers including lawyers, the confidential space for authentic goal setting, reflective analysis, compassionate challenge and non-judgemental accountability which coaching provides is invaluable and transformative.

What form should coaching take?

Employers should consider both one-to-one coaching for working mothers as well as small groups, or a combination of both.

Group sessions can provide comfort in the knowledge that you are not alone in your experiences and challenges as well as an opportunity to learn from others being coached. It can also result in a support network of colleagues whose values you share and whom you trust. This social capital can help to maintain a strong sense of identity and self-belief when working in a male-dominated environment.


Nobody wants the issue of gender equality to become a box-ticking exercise and candidates must expect to be recruited based on their merit. However organisations must also expect to invest more in attracting, developing and retaining the right female talent for traditionally male-dominated environments.

For those organisations that genuinely want to diversify their workforce and reduce the gender pay gap, offering performance coaching to working mothers lower down the corporate ladder can be a powerful, quick and easy route to success.

Dr Sally Hanna, Cotswold Coaching Clinic


August 2020