A CRITICAL PERSPECTIVE

In the second of this series of articles exploring race equity in coaching, Tammy Tawadros looks at the ways in which we can examine ourselves and our work through a race equity lens.

Part 2: Race equity and coaching – pushing the boundaries

 

In my previous article (https://bit.ly/2QFhs0K), I argued in favour of bringing a coherent understanding of race and a critical, ‘race conscious’ narrative into coaching as a profession and a practice.

There’s arguably an important role for the profession as a whole to play in defending and speaking for undoing the injustices of racism, as well as within wider movements for social change. There’s also the opportunity, as there always has been, to examine what we do closer to home, in our individual coaching endeavours. In this article, I explore some of the deliberate practices that enable us to view our own self-enquiry and our coaching engagements through a critical, race equity lens.

Although bringing a perspective on diversity, inclusion and race into coaching isn’t new, the current unfolding global crises have brought renewed attention to the problematic contours of our existing social orderings, and to fundamental questions about equity and the just distribution of power and resources.

 

Push the boundaries

In the context of a pandemic and a climate emergency, attending to an agenda for social change with a clear focus on diversity, inclusion and race equity in coaching, has become more urgent than ever. Acute and chronic inequities and steep social gradients that are deeply ingrained along the lines of race exist ‘out there’, in multiple institutions and society at large. They’re also embedded in coaching arrangements and reflected ‘close up’ in our coaching relationships and the content of coaching conversations.

To embrace the theme of race equity in coaching and to articulate the value of anti-racism and social change isn’t about mounting a personal or moral crusade, but about embracing the social and historical realities of a world through which we’re all constructed and shaped. Neither is it about blame, rhetoric or virtue signalling, but rather, about how we as coaches push beyond the boundaries of the familiar in our everyday practice and find ways to hold a space in which new perspectives on how ‘what is’ and ‘taken for granted’ can be subverted, re-imagined and re-formed.

Critical race theorists have long argued for the need for professionals of various kinds to ‘problematise’ their practice, by interrogating the ways they come to see the world and to construct knowledge about experience through dominant ideologies. In coaching, this involves asking very different questions about our general approach to practice, and the ways in which this might facilitate or obscure the impact of social and racial injustice. Problematising and interrogating our practice becomes a practice in itself: one that shifts our frame of perception and the focus of our work.

 

Self-enquiry

Many coaches working on development programmes have taken a critical race perspective on the ways in which organisations commission coaching and make matching arrangements for those being coached. It’s often through questioning these arrangements that race inequity and the racialised order of things becomes apparent. Examples include, where resources may be disproportionately distributed, allocating coaching opportunities to those (predominantly white) individuals already on successful career or talent trajectories. Or where disproportionate numbers of Black and coachees of colour ‘drop out’ after being matched with a coach.

It’s in the asymmetric patterns of power and status, and the uneven investment of discretionary attention and effort by all those involved, that systemic and structural injustices can be discerned. Where the odds of status and power appear to be stacked against those marginalised and minoritised individuals, coaches can deploy themselves as allies to stand with those who are disenfranchised.

To deploy allyship, is to use the advantages and opportunities conferred through their privilege and power to interrupt inequitable patterns through acts of personal support, advocacy, public acknowledgement and sponsorship. Sponsorship, in particular, has been shown to be critical for Black women’s access to opportunities for development and progression.

Critical self-enquiry can inspire us to valorise the experience of minoritised and marginalised groups. Early on during lockdown last year, I learnt the value of this in my own practice. During that time, I was distressed and moved by the daily news and the experience of Black and colleagues of colour working in demanding health and social care settings and succumbing to the virus. It wasn’t our shared heritage, history and experience that stood out in reflecting on coaching with a team of social workers. Rather, it was the faith-based rituals they’d established to mark the death of colleagues and clients on the one hand, and the inventory of unrecognised qualifications they held from their countries of origin on the other, that emerged as conspicuous in the relegation and negation of their contribution, and in the potential for a more nuanced appreciation of the overlapping oppressions of race, gender and class, and the constituent elements of the team’s unique resilience resources.

 

Critical humility

Critical humility is a framework for enquiry and transformative change originally developed by the European-American Collaborative Challenging Whiteness group. It’s an approach which aims to render visible the distorting prisms of racism and white privilege, and to develop a race consciousness and a constellation of identity and beliefs, in service of race equity and justice. The notion of critical humility captures the paradox of certainty-flexibility, of knowing with sufficient clarity and confidence to act, but also with enough humility to be open to multiple ways of knowing, and to our susceptibility to ‘default’ to distorting narratives, and to self-deception and self-righteousness, so prevalent in dialogues about race.

For coaches, adopting critical humility as a discipline and a practice holds great promise and potential for developing, enriching and evaluating our effectiveness as collaborators for race equity and racial justice. The complex mosaic of oppressions that define our experience whether as coaches or coachees, are inevitably weighted towards inequity for those of us who are Black or people of colour. However, our experience is not a homogeneous one, nor is race necessarily always a salient dimension, for all its monolithic and pervasive presence in institutional and everyday life. Moreover, the intersections of class, gender, disability, LBTQ+ and religion, and of differential racialisation for different individuals and groups, make for overlapping and multiple lived axes of oppression, privilege and identity.

None of us can claim a single, simple, unitary identity. A critical humility framework enables us to hold the clarity and confidence to challenge the everyday, prevalent, majoritarian conceptualisations that would deny lived experiences of bias, coercion, disadvantage, exclusion, glass ceilings, gaslighting, poor diversity and compromised well-being, and the openness to be flexible about what we think we understand.

Critical humility can support our own, as well as our enquiries with our coachees, whether these are focused on the experiences of oppression or privilege, including those of white privilege. The histories and legacies of empire, colonialism and post-colonialism are ones that shape us all, albeit unjustly and unequally, and with differentiated responsibilities that flow from the ways in which our identities and positions are situated.

 

Rich possibilities

Reflecting on the topic of race and race inequity for ourselves, and with our clients brings rich possibilities to our practice: it can generate new frames of reference and help transform our view of the social order by enabling challenge to the inevitabilities of the status quo, of race inequity, of white supremacy and the flexibility for creative and dynamic emancipatory options to emerge.

 

  • Next issue: Guilt, reparation, responsibility and trauma in race equity and coaching
  • Tammy Tawadros is a coach, coach supervisor, OD consultant and work psychologist. She is a member of faculty for the AMEC programme at Ashridge

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