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A Feminist Approach to Executive Coaching: How Hodology can help you find your path.

Updated: Sep 5

Hodology is the study of paths. Discover why it's also a unique approach to coaching that changes how we think about women in leadership.
A mountain in the distance stands proud against a dramatic sky.

In this article, I explain the ethos behind Hodology, why I chose this name for my company and why we need a feminist approach to executive coaching. But before we get into that, let's start with something we can all agree on.

Hodology is the study of paths.

Hodologists examine the different ways in which a traveller can reach a specific destination. In neuroscience, it studies the interconnections of brain cells (or connectomics). In psychology, it is a term introduced by Kurt Lewin to describe paths in a person's "life space." In philosophy, it is the study of interconnected ideas. In geography, it is the study of paths - literal paths.

In career development, Hodology is the study of progression.

Hodology: (noun) /ho-do-'lo-jē/ : Derived from the Greek "hodos", meaning way or path, hodology is the study or science of pathways considering the various possible routes or the optimal routes between points.

When it came time to name my company, choosing Hodology was more than just an alignment of vision; it was a statement of purpose.

The world of work is evolving faster than we can adapt. In all the uncertainty, a rewarding career path can feel like the privilege of the confident, careless or carefree. Those of us who remain committed to economic empowerment are encouraged to acknowledge and overcome our shortcomings. Lean in. Show up. Stand tall. How many times have you seen statements like these on social media? Or used to advertise products? How often has someone offered to sell you the cure to being you?

But despite this being a golden age for female empowerment, gender, class, and racial inequalities deepen, and as I cover later, those with self-confidence still struggle to make progress.

It's almost as if lack of self-belief isn't the problem (yup, I am about to drop the P-bomb).

Then why does the cult of confidence draw so much attention? Why do so many employers invest in endless imposter syndrome workshops and mindset coaches?

“When we hear business leaders, politicians, coaches or brands talking about inequality, women’s confidence is always discussed. But we’re letting institutions and wider structures off the hook from making changes as long as we’re saying that women are responsible.” - Rosalind Gill

And I agree, mostly.

I agree that tasking women with confidence work is letting society off the hook. The command to invest in self-confidence is the patriarchy throwing out a great big "Hey, look over there!". However, I also see women struggling to overcome self-limiting beliefs. Millions of women self-identify as imposters, and who am I to challenge them?

Good Girl Syndrome is the manifestation of traits that are valued or praised in girls. It has much to do with how caregivers (including people outside the family, like teachers) interact with girls and how those interactions shape and mould our behaviour. It’s rooted in societies’ stereotyped expectations of how women should be and the role we should play.

Perhaps you're one of those who thinks, 'Fuck that!', I'll be me despite what 'they' say - in which case you may fall foul of stereotype threat. Perhaps it should be called 'Bad Girl Syndrome'. Stereotype threat is an awareness that we risk confirming negative stereotypes about our racial, ethnic, gender, or cultural group. For fear of being the good girl, we become the bitch; an equally ineffective leadership identity.

Fair to say, it's complicated.

This is why, just as feminism seeks a comprehensive understanding of societal structures and their impact on women, I wanted to create an approach that looked at the whole person, understanding that a myriad of personal and external factors influence decisions and direction.

That being said, the first decision I made about my unique approach to executive coaching was an easy one;

Hodology doesn't provide confidence coaching.

Confidence isn't a prerequisite to understanding and evaluating available paths.

Instead of relying on bravado or faking it until we are making it, Hodology is rooted in clear, objective analysis. Our approach demystifies each option, laying out its intricacies, potential challenges, and opportunities. Doing so levels the playing field, allowing even those who might feel unsure or hesitant to gain a thorough understanding.

The beauty of this approach is that it doesn't demand you to march forward with unwavering confidence; it simply equips you with clarity. Over time, as you consistently make informed choices based on this clarity, genuine confidence naturally emerges. You genuinely trust your decisions, not out of faith but because they are well-reasoned. But in the beginning? All you need is curiosity and a willingness to explore.

Before I fall into the same trap of labelling all women as requiring confidence, let's look at the challenges faced by confident and ambitious women - I am fortunate to count myself in this group. I wonder how that statement makes you feel? But before we proceed, let's define self-confidence to ensure we're on the same page.

Self Confidence: (noun) /ˈkɒnfɪd(ə)ns/ : the feeling or belief that one can have faith in, rely on or trust in her own abilities, capacities, and judgments, or belief that she can successfully face challenges and demands.

Self-confident, ambitious women who struggle to progress are encouraged to think there is a type that succeeds while others fail - that for most of us, success relies not just on being confident but on us being or becoming someone else. We are continuously tasked with becoming.

Too many of us become poor copies of ourselves, lessened and burdened by the effort of pretending to be someone else. Yet, it's a cost that many of us willingly pay to succeed in business. As Elaine Welteroth puts it, when you occupy space in systems not built for you, just being yourself is a radical act. Too radical an act? For many women, absolutely it is. Despite being heralded as the gold standard for modern leadership, authenticity can be risky.

Yet authenticity is the only sustainable leadership style. This may be why we're witnessing a brain drain with women in senior leadership leaving the corporate world in record numbers.

I am on a mission to help more women love leadership - Libby Vincent

To promote authenticity, I wanted to create an approach that didn't seek to prescribe a course of action. Not least because the experience of being a woman is near constant feedback on what we should do. I wanted to create an approach that put the individual at the heart of the decision-making process.

Hodology provides choice-focused coaching.

There are many paths to the top.

In the early days of research, I read this Julia Boorstin article where she describes the process of writing her book When Women Lead (of which I now have a signed copy - it's behind me when I make videos);

"And I saw how women, because they already didn’t fit the stereotypes of what leaders were supposed to look like, often felt liberated to do things their own way."

Ureka! When I met her, I tried to explain how this sentence changed everything, but instead, I mumbled something about paths. I guess confidence really does have more to do with circumstance than character.

Choice-focused coaching values the individual journey over prescribed outcomes, respecting and honouring each person's unique path. Rather than providing prescriptive advice (which can sometimes mirror patriarchal directives), choice-focused coaching empowers individuals to discover and decide for themselves.

Like Feminism. Hodology advocates for the autonomy and agency of women.

So, how does Hodology work?

Instead of dictating directions or dispensing generic advice, we focus on illuminating the paths open to you. By assessing each direction for its accessibility and potential challenges, we anchor your journey in objective analysis. Your context and circumstances will determine accessibility. The realities of leadership and being a woman in leadership dictate many of the potential challenges. To ensure the map is as detailed as possible, we draw on leadership expertise, behavioural science and gender politics.

In succession, transition and onboarding processes, this is about highlighting where you may make an assumption about priorities based on how you've seen others navigate the same change. You only get one chance to make a first impression, so why copy someone else's?

Once you understand the full variety of paths open, it's up to you to choose which is in profound alignment with who you truly are. Easier said than done, thanks to patriarchal social conditioning. But you're in there. The brilliant vibrant powerful leader they need has been waiting for her chance to show them what she's got. All you need to do is let her try.

Long story short, we work with executive women in times of uncertainty to help them embrace their authentic leadership style and move forward with confidence in their ability to cope with what comes next.

Finally, why do we need a feminist approach to executive coaching?

Traditional executive consulting may inadvertently perpetuate existing patriarchal norms and biases. A feminist approach actively recognises and challenges these structures, ensuring that executive strategies are inclusive and equitable. We're not here to change women but to hold a mirror up to their choices.

A feminist lens can help individuals move away from traditional, potentially limiting, notions of leadership and embrace more authentic and sustainable models.


Hodology is an executive coaching consultancy offering personal change management to women in leadership. Talk to us about how we can help you find your path.

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