Importance of Intersectional Storytelling in Coaching

In this episode, we discuss how to better understand our coaching clients within the context of culture, identity, and systemic inequality.

The Everything Life Coaching Podcast, featuring Lumia Coaching founders John Kim and Noelle Cordeaux, is a deep dive into the experience and business of being a life coach. Subscribe to get new episodes weekly!

Honoring Client Identities in The Space of Coaching

Identities are vital, powerful, and foundational to understanding who a person is in context. Both from the perspective of each individual human’s capacity for meeting and overcoming challenges, and also from the perspective of being able to offer coaching support and partnership that springs from a well of clear understanding - of meeting someone where they are at.  

In coaching, working with intersectional visibility is a 360 degree endeavor. We need to be able to evoke enough trust and safety that a client, potential client, colleague, employee or any other stakeholder in our sphere can freely share their whole selves.

As coaches we are called upon to do the internal work that is required to dismantle unconscious bias that could harm someone if we respond to something they share with judgment (or worse: derision, racism, bigotry or scorn.) 

Because coaching as a profession calls for an end to systemic inequality, as individual coaches it is helpful when we ourselves speak up about our own lived experiences with difference, challenge, and marginalization. Visibility is a powerful tool that signals to others that they are worthy and capable of transforming or reaching a goal state - in whatever way they choose.

"It is in the knowledge of the genuine conditions of our lives that we must draw our strength to live and our reasons for acting." - Simone de Beauvoir

The quote above applies to all of the lessons of non-judgement and intersectional awareness that the ICF Code of Ethics calls for. Only when we understand the genuine conditions of someone's life (with empathy and non-judgement) can we begin to effectively partner with them in a way that moves the ball down the field.  

Context is everything. A person with intersectional challenges will have a very different set of “strengths to live and reasons for acting,” than someone who navigates the world with unfettered privilege. 

As a coach, educating oneself on different aspects of intersectional existence is so important, especially if you are interested in working with marginalized populations. 

When coach and client work together 1:1 there is an agreed upon expectation of confidentiality that is explicitly contracted.  Beyond personal engagement with your private clients, coaches must also develop an impeccable internal ethical compass regarding the gift and privilege of learning about someone’s “genuine conditions.” This circle of care extends in every direction: whether a work colleague, direct report, DM from a community member on your social media account, participant in a class or group learning container, or a share offered in a digital group learning experience.  

Coaches also have a responsibility to educate participants wherever they employ coaching about the limitations of confidentiality in spaces where coaching takes place. AND we also need to provide safe spaces for people to share their whole selves that models and normalizes speaking up and out.  

Yes this is a tall order! And as coaches, this is simply the bar that we must reach. 

In her essay The Master's Tools Will Never Dismantle the Master's House, Audre Lorde talks about the redemptive qualities of nurturance and connection that takes place when we take the time to learn about each other’s differences. The call is for us to connect to each other powerfully through the acknowledgment of difference while in the pursuit of shared goals.

Nurturance and connection are implicit in the coaching relationship, and also built into the standards and ethics of the discipline of coaching itself. The frameworks of coaching help us to understand what effective partnership can look like in a world rife with difference.

Lorde also talks about interdependence as a pathway to freedom that requires embracing both differences and strengths from a genuine place of seeing another human being fully. This she says “enables us to descend into the chaos of knowledge and return with true visions of our future, along with the concomitant power to effect those changes which can bring that future into being. Difference is that raw and powerful connection from which our personal power is forged.”  

The lens and context that Lorde is addressing is feminism, and the way that women must relate to each other in order to form partnership by embracing differences to overcome gender based barriers to advancement. Through the lens of coaching, this tenet is true of all aspects of identity.  

The work of coaches is to support our clients in crafting visions of the future, and impact change in a way that allows that future to birth into being. It is only through our ability to fully embrace our clients’ stories of challenge and difference that we will be able to - in partnership - help them push towards new horizons. 

Questions for reflection

What are visible aspects of identity that could impact the way we set and plan to achieve goals for ourselves? Examples:

  • Gender
  • Ethnicity
  • Race

What are some less visible aspects of identity? 

  • Neuro-diversity
  • Ability vs being differently abled
  • Chronic illness
  • Sexual orientation
  • Religious orientation
  • Military status
  • Citizenship status/Nationality

In this episode of The Everything Life Coaching podcast, Lumia co-founders John Kim and Noelle Cordeaux discuss these concepts, and how they directly relate to the work of coaching. They provide examples from their own lives of their own intersectional identities, along with barriers they have encountered as a result. 

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