To Cultivate Trust And Safety In Coaching We Need To Acknowledge Racism

At GCI we believe that if the coaching profession is to truly embrace what it means to create trust and safety with our clients, we need to move beyond generic approaches to demonstrating respect and non-judgment.  While these practices are important, they don’t address the distinct challenges faced by the global majority. 


As a profession we need to start coming to terms with those systemic factors that result in a world which is not a level playing field, but is fraught with systemic biases.  Many coaching clients – and prospective coaching clients – navigate those biases every day.  They wrestle with whether or not to name the elephant in the room, and must assess whether speaking up will relieve the challenges they face or simply make their situation worse. Yet few coaches understand these issues with enough nuance to support their clients adequately.


Ironically those systemic biases, racism, sexism, able-ism and homophobia impact and disadvantage the vast majority of the population in one way or another. Yet as a profession we seem to pretend that they don’t exist – or pay them lip-service at best.


When we turn the lens on ourselves as coaches, we begin to recognise that the coaching profession is made up largely of white, middle class, well-educated women. And that is problematic. It inevitably creates blindspots. While we might know what it means to navigate the challenges of sexism, possibly even entering the coaching profession as we brush up against the glass ceiling, our attention to other forms of marginalisation is dulled. 


As a maturing profession it’s time to ask ourselves some tough questions. 


Are we resting a little too comfortably on our commitment to human potential? Are we avoiding the hard work needed to explore our rank and privilege in our personal and professional relationships. These are not endeavors to be undertaken lightly. We risk becoming uncomfortable when we explore the legacy of history and the consequences of contemporary practice. One of the benefits of being a member of mainstream culture is that we have a choice to avoid that discomfort, as we create and recreate a world that preserves our sense of comfort and ease. We use our rank to redirect the narrative.


As a profession we seem to prefer a generic humanist approach to creating trust and safety that shies away from the messier side of our contemporary social systems. Coaching is future-focused and solution oriented. Where does that leave us in terms of discussing challenges that may in fact take generations to address?


In acknowledging that the world is not a level playing field we come face to face with questions that do not have easy or immediate answers. But that doesn’t mean we should avoid those questions.


At GCI we are leaning into the questions, in the hope that through dialogue we will build more understanding of ourselves and the experience of others. Last night we sponsored a Cultivating Trust & Safety workshop for current students that positioned these questions front and centre. The workshop is a platform for educating ourselves about power and rank dynamics that operate in society and therefore within our learning community. It’s our approach to developing a common understanding of racism, homophobia and other unconscious biases, that have a profound but unacknowledged impact on the global majority. 


I am deeply touched by the way in which our students are embracing these dialogues, asking to go deeper, as they prepare to confront white fragility and the elephant in the room. It is my deepest hope that more coaching schools, peer and professional networks take up the challenge.


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