What will it take to make coaching anti-racist?

Can coaching become anti-racist?

Black woman working at a laptop

I’ve been a coach since January, 1996, and a member of the International Coach Federation (ICF) since March of that year. I joined ICF because I wanted to learn and grow in this emerging profession, I wanted to locate myself in the larger coaching community, and i wanted a way to demonstrate my commitment to professionalism, which for me includes being accountable to something outside of myself for my performance.

I know that coaches, by and large, are in this profession to do good, so it was no surprise that ICF would publish a Statement Condemning Racism and Systemic Inequality. I’m proud that ICF has stepped up, and I look forward to working within ICF and outside of it to turn this statement into a substantive ongoing commitment to dismantling white supremacy and patriarchy within coaching, coach training, and to the extent we have influence, all the systems and communities we interact with.

Here’s the comment I shared in response to ICF’s statement:

This is a good beginning, and we have a lot of work to do.

ACTO (Association of Coach Training Organizations) has made exploring what a real commitment to diversity, equity, inclusion, and belonging in coaching and coach training might really mean. We devoted two entire conferences to that theme and have made a commitment to integrating it into every aspect of the organization’s work. We have formulated an ACTO Stand for Diversity, Equity, Inclusion & Belonging as follows:

“ACTO is committed to creating diversity, equity, inclusion and belonging in the coaching profession through calling forth, honoring and inviting the uniqueness of all individuals and diverse life experiences.

“In support of this stand, we acknowledge and are committed to eliminating the negative impact of personal and systemic bias, privilege and oppression, which may be conscious or unconscious, intentional or unintentional, overt or subtle.

“As coach trainers, we are tasked with creating the future of the coaching profession. We commit to providing dialogue, learning and resources and to cultivating personal and organizational responsibility in alignment with this stand, at ACTO, for each of our students, members and member organizations.”

As an ICF member since 1996 and an ACTO member for about 10 years (first through coach training orgs and now as an individual member), I wholeheartedly endorse this stand. I look forward to seeing ICF address systemic racism–which is related to but not the same as cultural competency–with the same rigor, resources, and commitment that we have brought to credentialing and accreditation.

I encourage all coaches and coach trainers to consider deeply how our profession, however unwittingly, has enshrined the cultural norms of white supremacy. A good way to enter into that question is to download and study White Supremacy Culture by Tema Okun (building on work by the late Kenneth Jones). For example, in what ways are individualism, fear of open conflict, and a sense of urgency based into our competencies?

There is also an excellent Google doc, Scaffolded Anti-racist Resources, organized by stages of white identity development. You can use this with yourselves, your mentees, and your clients to identify appropriate learning tools.

Without concerted effort, coaching will unwittingly perpetuate the very things that ICF is taking a stand against in this statement. We have incredible breadth and depth in our ranks. We have hearts, minds, bodies, and souls that we are committed to using for the highest good. But most of us are working from and in systems that are inherently racist, and all our good intentions can cause incalculable damage if we do not challenge and support each other to make radical structural changes.

I know we can do this.

Will we?

Side note: As I looked for an image to go with this post, I noticed the layers of socialization and judgment that I carry about Black bodies and that I have been trained to anticipate in professional circles. I considered a photo of a Black woman working from home with a toddler at her knee and a baby on her lap. I thought about several that showed Black professional women with high heels, cleavage, or body-accentuating clothing. What images and associations come to mind as you read those sentences? What judgements do you form? Have you been trained to see certain styles of dress as unprofessional? Is natural hair professional? We need to become aware of these layers of meaning making and then be accountable for interrogating them and dismantling those that do not serve the wellbeing and worth of all beings.

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