Action learning and coaching as an integrated approach for supporting women’s career progression

A reflective analysis


  • Kathryn Waddington University of Westminster
  • Saire Jones



action learning, coaching, critical reflection, women’s career development


This paper offers a critically reflective evaluation of an online action learning initiative in one university which addressed gender inequality and support for women’s career development. The action learning group comprised four women working in academic roles, and four working in professional services roles. It was co-facilitated by the authors from a shared understanding as coaches working together as ‘third space’ practitioners; defined as those working in higher education who do not fit conventional binary descriptors/roles such as academic or professional services. Key features of the paper are: (i) the argument that holistic academic practice development applies to individuals working in professional services, technical/operational, and academic roles; and (ii) adoption of a ‘practice first’ approach. The paper illustrates action learning as a practice, and the important role of reflective supervision based on systems-psychodynamic thinking in co-facilitation of action learning as a group process. Nancy Kline’s coaching-based Thinking Environment approach was also used in both the facilitation of action learning, and as framework for critical reflection and supervision of our coaching practice. Theoretically, action learning was informed by the job demands-resources model, and concepts of job crafting and self-compassion, which enable individuals to shape their work environment by adjusting to prevailing demands and accessing resources. The paper includes outcomes of this action learning initiative, and offers new perspectives for personal, professional, and career development. However action learning and coaching alone cannot overcome organisational barriers to career progression. Nor can they address the wider and well documented damage caused by higher education policy and politics. The approach we advocate here calls for a collective process for inquiring into – and revealing – the institutional problems and practices that create barriers for women’s career progression. This allows action learning and coaching to move beyond being seen as simply an individual/group process for problem-solving and career development.



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