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Coaching the ‘ideal worker’: female leaders and the gendered self in a global corporation

David Gray (Business School, University of Greenwich, London, UK)
Erik De Haan (Ashridge Centre for Coaching, Hult International Business School, Berkhamsted, UK)
Sally Bonneywell (Bonneywell Development, London, UK)

European Journal of Training and Development

ISSN: 2046-9012

Article publication date: 16 July 2019

Issue publication date: 10 September 2019




Gender differences in leadership and issues around differential progression of male and female leaders are receiving more attention in the fields of human resource and leadership development. However, little is known about how interventions designed to support female leaders are being experienced within real-world contexts of global organizations. There is limited research and discussion on how such interventions are experienced at a more systemic level. This study aims to contribute at this very level.


This study reports on a predominantly coaching-based development program that was designed to further the careers of female leaders within a complex multi-national organization. The study was conducted in a large, global health-care corporation employing 100,000 people based in over 120 countries. The qualitative research design for this study was exploratory, involving a reflexive process at each of the two stages.


The findings from this qualitative research take the debate on “the gendered organization” further by including the voices of female leaders. They demonstrate that whilst theoretically the concept of the “ideal worker” may inhibit progression, this is not necessarily a barrier to career advancement. Coaching, both individual and group, is shown to have a powerful effect on promoting reflection, self-confidence and focus.

Research limitations/implications

There are two research limitations. While confidentiality was promised, the responses of some interviewees were nevertheless still guarded. Other limitations relate to the extent to which this study can be generalized to other contexts, as it was conducted inside a single global corporation.


The study addresses the complex and urgent topic of differential progression and makes a broader contribution by offering a systemic perspective on gender and development in global organizations.



Gray, D., De Haan, E. and Bonneywell, S. (2019), "Coaching the ‘ideal worker’: female leaders and the gendered self in a global corporation", European Journal of Training and Development, Vol. 43 No. 7/8, pp. 661-681.



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