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Advanced coaching skills: Part 5 – Coaching for diversity

How do we, as coaches, approach diversity?  I’m sure that many of us hold a firm belief that this is the one profession which really makes us acknowledge difference of race, gender, ability, age, skill, motivation… and work with our clients, wherever they are.

Yet, how true is this really?  Do we only accept diversity so long as it’s on the “nice”, or “oppressed”, end of the scale?  Are we happy to coach young people, or women, or ethnic minorities to help them gain the self-confidence they may be lacking, but do not see the same need in oligarchs, or tech giants, or market speculators?  What judgements do we hold about the people in strong positions of hierarchical power?  That they are uncoachable?  That they do not need coaching?  That we are not able, or willing, to coach them?

And yet… these are often the people who most require coaching.  Who most need an unbiased, uncowed, unafraid presence in their life, to hold a mirror to the wider consequences of their actions, whether intended or not.  For whom a coach may be the only person whose livelihood does not directly depend on them being strong, and powerful, and all-conquering!  The only person, in fact, who could encourage them to explore their vulnerability, doubts, and ways of doing things differently…

I do appreciate that my views are based on a strongly held assumption about the innate goodness of human beings, and their willingness to do the right thing, even if they are in positions of hierarchical power.  It is also based on another – far more debatable – assumption that part of our duties as coaches is to “speak truth to power”, or, to be more precise, allow the full truth to be seen by those in power.

This can be uncomfortable to many coaches, and they may find reasons to avoid such assignments: whether it is perceived impartiality, or the view of coaching as skills-based development, or prioritising the coaching needs of the under-confident.  Arguably it is far easier to dismiss those in power as ego-driven narcissists, than to actually try and engage with them, with a view to helping them see more of their humanity, and the shared humanity of others.

For those that dare, however, this could be a very rich (if you’ll pardon the pun) and satisfying field of practice, one that could allow us to challenge our own views, as well as those of our coaching clients.

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