In the first of this series of articles about race equity in coaching by Tammy Tawadros, she argues that a confluence of global forces amounts to a call for a ‘conscientisation’ of the coaching profession, and for the need for (executive) coaches to develop a coherent and critical perspective on race and race equity.
Part 1: Race equity and coaching – a call to conscientisation?
Over the past year, major world events have brought crisis and bewildering uncertainty to our lives. They’ve offered many of us glimpses of the possibility that longed for and hitherto elusive change might happen; and hope that new solidarities would be kindled in our shared vulnerability to the virus and its impacts.
Social media made us witness to the brutal, blunt, murderous manifestations of racism. We saw the Black Lives Matter movement re-assert itself and throw the unpalatable history and present-day realities of racial injustice and inequity into sharp focus, drawing our attention to the enduring and pervasive nature of racism in the fabric and structure of our societies.
The huge shift in consciousness that followed saw numerous corporations and institutions take serious, concerted and corrective action to address racism and social inequity.
A wake-up call
This confluence of global forces has been a catalyst for real change and amounts to a further wake-up call for many professions, including coaching, to move towards critical consciousness and a truly relevant, engaged practice that centres on race equity and addresses race inequity.
A race inequity framing regards racial injustice as arising from structural and institutional systems that disadvantage members of minoritised groups and privileges the rights of those who belong to the (white) dominant social group.
Race cannot be ignored because it is a significant dimension of experience and of our socio-political condition. In the context of equity-mindedness, to be ‘race conscious’, is to be aware of the historic roots and the pervasive, systemic nature of oppression, in touch with social reality, and open to the importance of race, (albeit that it is an artificial construct closely associated with the transatlantic
Race equity is not achieved through a focus on diversity (representation and demographic difference) or inclusion (individual behaviour). These are important but they do not lead to equitable outcomes because they do not address the central issue of racial injustice.
The discourse of social justice and human rights resonates powerfully and inescapably with countless numbers of Black People, People of Colour and white allies to the movement and cause, in the world of coaching, as it does with many others in the helping professions.
Yet to date, activist, scholar and practitioner coaches appear to have been largely silent on the specific topic of race, and very little has emerged by way of an articulated perspective on anti-racism and race equity.
Several coaching traditions place particular emphasis on the interplay between the individual and their organisational and wider context, and underscore the importance
of an intrinsic connection between the experience of coaches, coachees and the wider context.
Such a contextualising approach offers rich possibilities for anti-racist, and race equitable coaching practice to emerge, and for experience, relationships, organisations and systems to be understood within a critical socio-political frame.
There are doubtless many brilliant, courageous and inspired coaching conversations that take place within such a perspective. What is hard to imagine, however, is how such conversations can be rendered capable of producing change in service of race equity, in the absence of an explicit stance on how racism and anti-racism operate.
A critical perspective
To invite the need for such a stance, is not to invoke a simplistic recipe or the tyranny of moralism and dogma. Rather, it is to underline the need for a coherent and critical perspective that informs coaching practice and forms a cogent basis for taking action.
Such a perspective would go some way towards the following:
- Conceptualising the multiple ways in which racism is manifested, enacted and reproduced within the profession as a whole, and the ways these are expressed, elaborated and understood within coaching relationships.
Regardless of the form – institutional or interpersonal – the outcomes of injustice are the same. They damage the individuals involved and threaten the future of the profession’s viability by denting its credibility and limiting its contribution to social change.
- Challenging the business-as-usual, ingrained Eurocentric assumptions, belief systems and dominant models that inform and bias coaching practice.
These privilege an individualistic and narrow view of what constitutes success and effectiveness in coaching. Moreover, they perpetuate asymmetrical power and maintain non-conscious, taken-for-granted oppressions intact. The psychological and relational wounds that result, and often go unrecognised, have enduring negative consequences for the health and well-being of Black People and People of Colour.
- Legitimising and foregrounding the experiences, narratives and voices of Black People and People of Colour as a source of knowledge and ensuring that these reflect not only the difficult histories and troubling realities of social injustice but also the positive lived experience of pride, strength and triumph.
At a time of acute disruption and extreme anxiety, it can be hard to pause, to think without defensiveness, about what we might gain from paying greater attention to race equity in coaching, whether in our own practice, or in the profession as
As the Covid-19 pandemic enters its second year, it looks set to cause lasting upheaval and uncertainty. This may deepen our empathy and sharpen our appetite to engage with the liberating potential of race equity, close to home, as a key pillar of our practice and our endeavours as a profession, or it may see us turn away and perhaps later “look in vain for progress in the larger world” (Eleanor Roosevelt, 1958).
In subsequent articles in the series, Tawadros will explore a range of topics relating to race equity in coaching.
These will include an exploration of ethics and the psychology of guilt, reparation and responsibility; empowerment and ‘critical humility’: balancing empathy and confrontation, clarity and reflexivity; how to recognise and work with micro-aggressions in the coaching relationship; and living in the shadow of denial – a personal reflection on the role of trauma in working with race inequity.
- Tammy Tawadros is a coach, coach supervisor, OD consultant and work psychologist. She is a member of faculty for the AMEC programme at Ashridge.