Racialisation Is Over If You Want It: Coaches And Allyship: Creating The Ground

Featured Image: Wheel Of Intersectionalities Kimberle Williams Crenshaw

Speak Up, Speak Out is the podcast dedicated to identity, anti racism and decoloniality, an issue currently centre stage, hosted By Charmaine Roche Coaching, Consulting, facilitating insightful social change in Nottingham and beyond https://www.lifeflowbalance.co.uk

In the final episode of season three is a question about how coaching is evolving and what purposes it will serve in meeting the challenges we have as human beings on this planet.

The final conversation in season three is itself a study of the vulnerability and courage of my guests who all show up for a conversation about race, whiteness and allyship. Enjoy.

What purposes has coaching in solving the problems and challenges we face as humans of this planet?

Guests: Liz Hall, (Coaching through Covid and much more) Professor David Clutterbuck, (as of 2020 Chartered Companion of Chartered Institute of Personnel Development) Professor Jonathan Passmore  and Fenella Trevillion (and Associates): 

Charmaine A fundamental shift is taking place in coaching, a process that’s produced a consequent massive global shift in the visibility of certain issues around race and racism in coaching and decolonising coaching but it’s not a process that began in 2020.

We know there was a moment of a massive global shift in the visibility of certain issues to do with structural and systemic inequalities and particularly the issue of racial justice but the process of the evolution of coaching started…I kind of want, I want to invite a conversation within that frame that coaching is coming to its maturity. What do you think guys?

David It could be its senility….I say that jokingly

We are at a crossroads on so many things choices what it’s for who it’s for, who does it and how either going to make it increasingly relevant or they’re going to make it irrelevant

Charmaine Interesting… mmm… anyone else?

Fenella I do… if coaching doesn’t see the changes, notice the changes, then it will make itself irrelevant

Jonathan Who it’s for, who does it and why?

I would see coaching much more as in a constant state of flux; it’s still really a young adult changing all of us have a stake in this process that’s changing. We all have a say in how it changes, as stakeholders, it’s like concrete that hasn’t yet set.

We can still mould it, shift it to adapt it keeping it as partly mouldable, partly changeable: fluid, a process that allows it to change going into the future, because the decisions we make now may be irrelevant in the 2020’s may be irrelevant in the 2040s or the 2060s.

The process is very simple, it’s about enabling individuals to think through, to reflect, discover for themselves the best way to do something what’s relevant now, to do things, enabling individuals to make decisions

What’s relevant now the conversations, will change. The people, training, understanding and context might be different to what was needed in the 1990’s and will be different in the 2050’s. The challenge is to keep it fluid not allowing that concrete to become fixed to allow that process to adapt to the needs of the coachee.

Liz Yeah one of the things I love about coaching is it’s informed by so many different disciplines, I see

coaching is a being, evolving, there’s something in the what we haven’t known what we don’t know, so many blind spots.

Coaching has always tended to inclusion in most quarters but we don’t know what we don’t know.

I love your framing of this conversation as an evolution. It’s always been relevant; now it’s more on our radar, the race issue, we didn’t know. David to speak to your point, to be relevant we need to surface and see what’s here. What we’ve been missing.

David This is the big difference is we’re beginning to see the difference between coaching as a profession and coaching and coaching as a movement ‘. The democratisation of coaching is bringing it to people who don’t have it.

If we don’t reach people we’re failing. Coaching as a profession is in danger of becoming elite: not racially limiting because any any racial background can come through the door but so much of coaching is dominated by assumptions particularly by the US to some extent of Europe and ignores the cultural background of Africa, China Japan. Coaching as a profession doesn’t deliver an environment of equality.

Charmaine Can I just come in there?

I don’t think it’s blind to diversity. I’d put a slightly different emphasis what coaching is blind to, fails to bring to the fore, not sure if it’s a blind spot or just doesn’t believe it’s important is the power differential between cultures.

The word culture is a neutral term in coaching that’s not invested with the notion of the power differential that exists in reality. There are loads of writings in coaching about diversity but it’s presented in a very neutral way almost as if all cultures are equal in reality when they’re not….they’re not regarded as equal.

David Absolutely. I was party to a wonderful conversation between two coaches…

One from South Africa and one from America

and the guy from America was talking about what it means to be a black coach in an American culture and the guy from SouthAfrica said you have no idea of what it’s like to be a black coach in South Africa, you’re assuming your perspective of the world is the only is the only one….

Jonathan. When we bring this global, this lens to analyse the issue then we end up in the place David is highlighting, then that is the danger…we start to apply global standards and competencies and standards because we believe they’re important then apply those across the world to different cultural groups and different racial groups and recognising that the power dynamic in one professional context, the power dynamic in one country is very different to how it would play out in a different cultural or national context.

Moving away from this view, even though many of us subscribe to this and are party to the professionalisation and improvingwhatever that might be: standards and competences in coaching and begin to view coaching as a conversational process to enable change then it isn’t universally true.

Individuals in Japanese contexts, Chinese, contexts, in India, in Uganda could be having very different conversations with very different frames of reference, thinking about the way that’s appropriate in their unique systems that’s different from standards that are being imposed on them: they’re trying to raise the standards, are trying to raise the quality of the work……When you apply a one size fits all model, one size fits noone…

Charmaine..mmm does anyone want to come in?

Fenella I’d quite like to just say is we talk about this easy conversation it is important, it’s really important to notice the power dynamics between coach and coachee. It’s very easy to just do something about focussing on the coachee and what they bring into the room in terms of their culture, which as you say is a word that doesn’t recognise power dynamics: what’s hugely, hugely important is what they both bring into the room say culture, in terms of their….whole background, not a word that recognises power dynamics but all the other things, their whole consciousness of the differential power is really important.

I don’t know Liz, what’s your…

Charmaine mmmm

Liz…I don’t know..when you think about standards and we think about training and all the rest of this accreditation when we’re training as a coach we need to be taught and equipped with ways to attend to this stuff and I don’t think we are currently…and I don’t think we are currently on many of the programmes and I think yeah…goes back to what aren’t we seeing but I think you’re absolutely right Jonathan, it’s not a case of one size fits all but we can have standards that bring in that sort of..territory… say look you have to have these uncomfortable conversations find out more about…all of that stuff….really we’ve got so much more to learn, yeah, yeah

Charmaine …..There are coaches out there who know this stuff….who know it because…

It’s their lived experience… to navigate…these power differentials…..it’s a question of survival for them it shows up differently in South Africa than it does in America

I’ll give two examples. One coach I spoke to from America talked about the need to understand the corporate environment because….otherwise you become a casualty of it and used the phrase you needed to have ‘the talk’…making the comparison between the way you need to navigate meeting the police on the street with how you have to navigate corporate spaces

Which I thought was a very powerful comparison in the metaphor of ‘the talk’; then a coach from South Africa talked about for her to get into the conversation in white corporate spaces (she’s a black coach) she has to be introduced in by a white person, otherwise she won’t get into the conversation.

That prejudice towards whiteness is still existant in corporate spaces in South Africa. Her description is that management in South Africa is still lily white, that’s the phrase she used.

So I’m quite interested in this concept of whiteness and how you relate to that what you understand of that. If we look at it as a global phenomenon and the way it’s being reflected in these different national contexts South Africa and USA the two examples I’ve given whiteness is the norm by which everything else is measured. How do you relate to that?

David I’ve recently been training executives in large organisations for reciprocal mentoring programmes with a diversity emphasis so they

are predominantly white, middle class, educated…um.. with all of that privilege that comes with it

and I’ve been training them to be the junior partner effectively in a relationship where they’ve been mentored from below we call it reciprocal/reverse mentoring..it doesn’t really matter.

The first thing I say is: why am I standing here talking to you, educating you around this area why is it that the person in front of you isn’t someone from your archetype or um, be it a BAME (I’m not sure if we’re allowed to use that term)

Charmaine laughs

David…or someone from the less privileged or cultural background..

…and the answer is why isn’t it someone different standing in front of you?

having someone from another culture …

preaching about their culture actually creates all the negative reactions and doesn’t bring about change but talking with someone from the same culture who can actually experience, you know, has the same experience…how do I deal with my prejudices, with my screw ups when I say the wrong thing so being able to look at it with wisdom that’s gained from experience across the cultural divide is much more powerful at helping executives understand and come to terms with the kind of…relationships, open and explorative relationships that they can have with their junior mentor.

There’s a metaphor here, it’s that we have the experience as privileged white people in a white dominated environment is actually…. gives us…. is as useful as many other things we might bring into that party…

Fenella My exploration over the last eighteen months, particularly over the last year.. I feel terribly strongly since I wrote that piece Coaching At Work (check Fenella’s piece written about her experiences of this podcast, too!) https://www.fenellatrevillionassociates.org/post/deconstructing-coloniality-in-coaching-a-possible-dream

Liz who’d know this from the piece … is about…we can’t go anywhere without first exploring our whiteness..understanding the incredible power and subtlety that we bring into the room and I think I do agree with you David that probably white people can be working with other white people over that and another jolly good reason we shouldn’t be asking black people and people of colour into the room to be exploring this is that they’ve done this for so long and actually they’ve not been listened to….

David and ok… Yes

Fenella You know the fragility, the white fragility we bring into that experience freezes conversations and the thing that’s being so powerful is realising we’ve spent so long downloading black people’s experience and using it, probably not even giving them any credence for that..either I think there’s a whole exploration that we should be as white people, that should be on the courses, really way, way even before you become a coach… to be just looking in the mirror really….for me the incredible subtlety of kind of becoming colour conscious and the huge embodied stuff is enormous and until there’s even a sense of beginning to scratch the surface around that by white people, the conversation around race doesn’t get very far….

Liz so yes… I’ve been guilty in the past of wanting so badly for colour not to matter that I fell into the same mud or whatever you want to call it that so many of us did.. thinking well I just don’t see colour… well of course I did… I’ve learnt that’s just not helpful at all, for anybody. That was something of a wake up moment, yeah… it’s really interesting I think there’s something for me about being really able to tune into what’s going on with the person in front of you..it’s their lived experience, it’s my lived experience.

It’s about…you talk about embodied and I know Fenella and I share an interest in Mindfulness, there’s something about what’s going on right here with my being white; someone else being white or not white but then there’s also that work we do behind the scenes, just white people doing our own work and I know Fenella that you feel strongly that we shouldn’t expect to get the answers from our colleagues of colour….so I’m much more sensitised in my work than I ever have been before to some of that privilege that we have as white people. I really didn’t have any clue. I think that once we start to wake up and it is a journey, waking up I think that calls us into being allies and I’m exploring what allyship means and I realise that not everyone will want me.

One of my coachees, she’s Asian and a doctor and we’ve been having lots of conversations about systemic racism where she works and how I might support her and she’s helped get a mentoring programme off the ground, fantastic but maybe she thought I’m not interested in your stepping up and saying hey I’m an ally please have me; so I think we have to be really attuned …

Charmaine mmm I know I felt that…

Liz..we’re human beings….

Charmainefelt that very strongly Liz after George Floyd was killed. I hosted a podcast with some other black females just to process the trauma and also to share it and one of the things that really annoyed me was a lot of people showing up as allies

and…why did it annoy me?

It wasn’t that I had anything against the individuals but it was that it positioned me as a victim and I’m not a victim..so my lens is not solely about race it’s about class, gender: what someone referred to as the matrix of domination, intersectionality, the ways different people are oppressed by social systems, so I do take a bigger view of this because I feel the process of racialisation and we need to sort this stuff out together because this stuff is affecting all of us. So you might see yourself as privileged and I think, you know what, you might be materially privileged but what about the moral impact of being privileged in that way?

David mmm

Charmaine So…It’s complicated and we need to have conversations in the shades and cracks and difficulties of what it means to be racialised because I feel

racialisation itself irrespective of whether you’re privileged or not privileged by that system is oppressive for everybody.

Jonathan What strikes me Charmaine and you might have talked in previous podcasts about the research that is currently going on into thinking through an anti racist approach.

What strikes me is collaborating with you in this research in the US and in Africa and in New Zealand.

When I’ve been engaging with other academics in universities who are responsible for coach education in a number of institutions,predominantly white professionals or senior academics, a real reluctance to engage in this research that I’ve not encountered in other research studies in the last couple of decades.

That suggests to me that there is a real nervousness amongst academics to engage in this topic. Their heart might be saying yes: this is important; we should be doing it but as you say, this is complex and, for many, this is a minefield in which they don’t want to engage because engagement, particularly in academic institutions but also in organisations for senior people too, can be career ending.

Charmaine Mmm

Jonathan So how can we defuse that area to allow all of us to do the work we need to have open, authentic, genuine conversations to unpick this complexity, to more deeply understand the role we play, to begin to make progress.

I don’t know the answer to that share the anxiety myself in this conversation today, oh Jonathan, be careful don’t want to say the wrong thing…I don’t want to offend. Also, is this a career ending podcast?

Well yes!

David I can so appreciate that Jonathan. About 18 months ago I went out to a whole bunch of colleagues and sounded them out, academic colleagues, sounded them about whether or not it would be a good thing to do a think piece, a challenge piece:

Is it time to abandon the idea of talking about ‘race’ ?’(as there’s no genetic, rational basis). It’s simply a construct. Should we just forget the whole idea of race and dump the whole concept? The feedback was that it would be a wonderful thing to research ….but you’ll be crucified.

and so I backed off, I still think about it I still wonder if I should have had the courage to open up this particular can of worms: I don’t know, time will tell but I think you’ve put your finger on something very important: the fear from those of us who are privileged of having our motives questioned doing the wrong this is a major factor of preventing people engaging with these issues

The simplest things would be to say I’m too busy and we can’t speak to you. The boat passed by and you’re saved from the minefield that is the end of your coaching career.

Charmaine Let me ask you…Why are you here?

I mean that genuinely, I’m not asking to set you up

David I think the answer is partly because you asked, partly because we care.

It is important. I’ll speak for myself. Here we are, we’re wandering around this very dense forest, trying to find an appropriate way out and ways that are going to be helpful. So on the one hand there’s this desperate need to be helpful but at the same time a restraining influence the things I think might be helpful might not be helpful.

So being faced like a doctor with a whole cabinet of pills and not sure of what any of them do. There’s a sense that we are impotent in this and that gaining potency is as you’ve suggested is about coming together and talking about things it’s why in reciprocal mentoring programmes how do you make mistakes together, how do the two of you have the goodwill and courage towards each other to say authentically what’s coming straight out of your mouth and knowing the other person will see that as an opportunity for you to discuss things as opposed to seeing it as an attack insult or whatever. I think that’s creating the safe space for those on all sides of the racial debate, or environment to be able to have those open honest, caring conversations where objective is to understand each other but tonurture/support so much violent ,it’s antagonistic, it’s judgemental, blaming set aside have conversations like we’re doing now..ok, this conversation so many will interpret this conversation in many different ways some people will probably hate what we’ve said but what you’ve created is a safe space where a group of us who are white and privileged but care, begin to explore this issues what do we need to be able to make a difference in this environment

Charmaine I’m very moved with what you’ve said…anyone else want to come in?

Liz I’m happy to share why I’m here. This isn’t new but there is a sense of rising up an increased awareness a stirring, that we’ve talked about and once this has happened it hoves us to pay attention and to step up. I want to say really so for me when I wake up to something like this it’s happened with climate as well when I really get a sense of the enormity of something..um… when I feel moved to participate in conversations around it and take action and I believe in the power of changing things with one conversation at a time. We have so many tools in coaching to draw on we know how to have courageous compassionate conversations we do it with all sorts of other topics we need not be frightened.

I understand it we have to work with those emotions fear, shame, guilt all sorts but let’s get on with it and be with each other and I want to say also that these issues are all connected gender, lack of privilege it’s about courageous compassionate conversations around climate, all of it I think that we have platforms we can use we should use how dare we not?

Charmaine For me all our systems need humanising we’re in that process.

The other thing I’d like to say in response to what Jonathan’s said, if there’s anything in response to what Jonathan said is that if there is an answer to the question as to what’s needed in order to make the conversation safer

..there’s the whole gamut, range of human emotion…

as in any traumatic situation when you get to the point of being able to step beyond those very visceral responses to trauma, the thing you need to to have a generative conversation is to have acknowledgement it’s all you need that’s where/why colour blindness doesn’t work that’s why it doesn’t work because you’re not being acknowledged, not seen through stereotypes but stereotyping is often invisible you’re not always aware you’re doing it. One of the areas where I feel, like you do about landmines, is around sexuality.

Now I have a very fluid sense of sexuality but when it comes to the language and talking it about I feel like a dinosaur, I don’t know how to talk about it other than by talking about it so I talk about it with someone I trust, make the mistakes then I know how to talk about it outside, in public because it’s true: the level of jeopardy is really high as everybody’s tried on social media now, aren’t they?

Liz: Yeah absolutely: fortunately I have my daughter who’s always pulling me up: mum you can’t say that, you can’t do that …Oh! Absolutely, yeah.

Fenella I wouldn’t mind saying a bit because it’s quite and interesting question why are we here I think I‘m a bit different from the rest of you being a white South African this has been an issue for me for much of my life but actually I think I’m in an incredibly wonderful liberated position

a) because coaching gives you numbers of tools to look at this stuff and I think that it’s been in some ways a wonderful sort of year where I’ve taken lots of risks…

I’ve connected with lots of people through zoom and other ways in taking those risks and what I’ve noticed too is that other people many too are many people willing to take risks, many of them are ,black people who have been open to taking risks a couple of things Tandi Tawdross(?) recently talked about critical humility I thought that was lovely way about how can we come to this endeavour with a shared critical humility and that whole thing about recognising if we want to use words like people who are white supremacists coming into the room and other people who’ve had a life of oppression and you’re never going to be able have these discussions because they are so frightening and you’re never going to be able to take those risks until you have a shared framework with this term critical humility and doing what we know is the thing that is authentic and is the right thing that is right for ourselves really.

David Way back in the 1990’s, working on diversity issues with the National Health Service in the UK we created the diversity awareness ladder: five levels of interaction with other people conversation you have with yourself to have conversation with them 1fear (of others) 2 wariness (of others) 3 tolerance (of others) 4 acceptance (of others) 5 truly valuing (others)

These are all different conversations you have to have with yourself before you can have the quality conversations with yourself before you can have a conversation with someone else.

The polarisation comes from fear to move step by step and allied to this we talk about implicit biases as if they are discrete but of course as Charmaine intimated with class and race it’s the intermix: the combination of class and race that makes someone feel more/less privileged. I was struck by a piece of research. The people most vocal in theMe Too’ movement in pressing for action on race tended to be actually ageist,  had a high level of ageist related assumptions a high level of assumptions about age, about old people and old people’s language. You can be focussing on one area but are blind to other areas where you are marginalising a completely different group of people.

It isn’t about putting race into this nice little box it’s the whole gamut of implicit biases we hold towards all kinds of people.

Charmaine: mmmm For me…if you think about this systemically, what’s inside is outside: a reflection of what’s outside. So it’s about changing the society, not just changing people’s minds but the material conditions that affect the way we relate to each other..I’m aware of time, respecting our time, your time. You can pick up that point I’ve made or it can be a summation for you in terms of the challenge we’ve defined for coaching and for humanity, really….

Jonathan For me I think we need to do the work ourselves me as an individual as an organisation leader, a manager a coach, Programme Director for an Accredited Programme and do the work in the wider coaching movement to bring about change in that movement back to the question why I’m here, it’s about social justice for each individual person.

Charmaine Thank you Jon

David I can build on this. For me the key is the interlinkage of all of this…the system is race, poverty culture, you name it there are multiple things. Just try and change one bit, the system will push it back to where it was. Therefore, our role as coaches is to create clarity that enables people to make better decisions which gives better clarity. The coaching world needs to use its competence to create clarity and in every context to support clarity.

Fenella There is the issue of having courage, humility compassion having those things in the room are vital for me

Liz completely agree resonates with everything Jonathan, David, Fenella have said really resonates with me that it’s about social justice, that it’s interlinked, that we have to do own work whatever it will be have own journey and that we need to collaborate and support each other and be able to make mistakes. We’re learning a lot about psychological safety and how to create that. So bringing that in really what cultures, environments, what conversations ingredients do we need in order for us to be honest and touch into our fear and make mistakes.

Because we’re going to make mistakes. And the other thing I would say those of us who have ways to offer opportunities, we should do that, because at the end of the day we can, why not? And we should do that, we should be on the alert. I do for a couple for coachee work trying to have my antennae up sort of looking for anyone I can bring in who’s black/brown that I can bring in who can speak who can be given a platform. We can’t we have to play a part in that. It’s something we can do very easily. One last thing I would say that people would say ‘well black and brown coaches haven’t got all the qualifications having gone through all the hoops, there are often reasons they haven’t they maybe come from underprivileged background and maybe haven’t got the money to pay for the shiny, shiny whizzy masters, so maybe we can be flexible and think about contexts and not be so snobby and raise standards.

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