I played the oboe for years. Beginning in primary school and through college, I practiced and practiced, joining the band, the wind ensemble, a church group and even formed a professional trio with a flute and clarinet. Now you may wonder why I open a piece on Coaching with my musical skills? Simple. When I was seeking out a music coach, I searched for someone who understood me – and who understood the oboe – and the distinctive value of the double-reed instrument. Not someone who played drums, not a tuba teacher, but a skilled musician that believed in the beauty and joy of the unusual oboe and related to the unique needs and challenges of the oboist.
It is the same with any coaching, whether it be leadership coaching, career coaching, or life coaching. A client brings their unique perspectives – their differences – to every coaching session. Hence, a coach must see their client, hear their client, and truly understand their client, all while respecting their own perspectives and honoring the coaching process. This is embracing diversity in coaching.
Why is diversity important in coaching? To be an effective and present coach, we must seek to understand the client within their context. A client’s context that may include their identity, environment, experiences, values, culture, and beliefs.
As a coach, supporting your client and their diversity without being grounded in the meaning and understanding, is like, well, trying to parallel park with one eye closed. In order to create a safe space for your client to explore and grow, we must be willing to do our own personal groundwork, not just ask for it from our clients.
Coaches need to be aware of and present in their emotions and thoughts towards diversity so they can be present for the client and THEIR diversity. We first need to look inward to understand our own differences, explore our own dimensions of diversity, realize the values that shape our beliefs, and grapple with our unconscious biases.
It takes both courage and curiosity to look within ourselves and be uncomfortable with what we may see. Only then, can we see through new lenses of diversity and perspectives for our clients and regularly ask our clients to consider new perspectives as well. That means creating a safe place for their diversity to exist. And enabling the client to bring their diversity forward. By doing this work, we are able to be in service to our clients.
An uncomfortable truth about today’s coaching profession is the disturbing lack of diversity among professional coaches and the lack of understanding about diversity by coaches. Yet, coaching by its nature is inclusive, and any hint of privilege or bias actively goes against its very ethos.
It is for this reason, it is time for the coaching profession, and individual coaches, to explore ways of enhancing the clients’ experience by embracing their own diversity and their clients’ diversity and bring it forward. The current climate is seeking coaches that have a wider systemic lens to diversity and inclusion. We need diversity among coaches, and within coaches, so that collectively we can empathize and empower our clients. The best way to achieve this is for coaches to experience greater exposure and understanding of diversity through training, discussion, reflection and practice.