The Role of Intersectionality in Coaching

Lumia Coaching instructor and intercultural sexologist Dr. Justin Stiron discusses how intersectionality and cultural competency enhance our work as coaches.

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Lumia Instructor Spotlight: Justin Sitron

Dr. Justin Sitron

We believe the work of coaching is informed and strengthened by understanding intersectionality, which is why we have an entire class on the topic as part of Lumia's life coach training curriculum. The course is facilitated by Dr. Justin Sitron, whose work is featured in this blog and the accompanying podcast.

Justin A. Sitron, PhD has been a sexuality educator since 2005. Prior to his career in sexuality education, he was a public school teacher. As a teacher, he recognized the incredible need for educators and other human service professionals to better understand and serve their students, especially their students of color, LGBTQ+ students, and students from other marginalized and oppressed populations. Justin is an intercultural sexologist who practices as a researcher, educator, and coach. You can learn more about his work at www.sexualitysolutions.com

What does Justin teach in the Lumia coach training program?

Course: Introduction to Intersectionality, which includes:

  • What is Intersectionality? Why does it matter? How does it inform our work?
  • How intersectionality shows up in a coaching environment
  • The skills we need as coaches to work from a place of intersectionality
  • Developing self-awareness and intuition around our perspective and biases
  • Honoring the client’s lived experience

Why it matters

Intersectionality helps coaches see the ways in which we can create space for our clients to show up as their whole selves - without stigma, shame, or labels. It also helps us as coaches discover how we can mindfully and ethically bring our whole selves to the coaching relationship.

So, what does “intersectionality” actually mean?

“Intersectionality is simply about how certain aspects of who you are will increase your access to the good things or your exposure to the bad things in life.” - Kimberlé Crenshaw, Time Magazine, February 20, 2020

The term intersectionality was coined by legal scholar and activist Kimberlé Crenshaw to highlight the ways in which people’s multiple identities interact with one another. The concept originally referenced the ways in which black women experienced the justice system. Crenshaw’s premise was that the oppression these women faced wasn’t just about race, or gender, but the intersection of the two. 

Since then, intersectionality as a term has been applied more broadly than Crenshaw first described to further highlight differences across a variety of identities that people experience. It is important to recognize that intersectionality is not a synonym for diversity, culture, or other differences. 

Intersectionality occurs within an individual’s life experience, and reflects the dynamics within particular contexts and cultures. For example, a person who holds power in one context because of certain identities may hold less power in another.

Intersectionality always references the broader cultural and social norms that privilege or oppress different people’s identities.  

Why do coaches need to understand this?

The International Coaching Federation sets the global standard for core coaching competencies. Those standards include an expectation that coaches center their clients’ perspectives and experiences, which requires us to be able to see a client’s whole life.

The way a person experiences the world is informed and influenced by their identity. It therefore stands to reason that as coaches, we are most effective when we hold an awareness of where our clients are coming from - especially when a client’s identity is different in some way from our own.

When we aren’t aware of how our own identities influence our experiences in life (both positive and negative), we’re less likely to recognize how our client’s identities in turn shape their experience. This can lead to miscommunication, lower levels of trust in the coaching relationship, or the application of the “wrong tools for the job”!

As a coach you hold a vantage point from which you can see your client’s whole life, how they intersect, and certain challenges and obstacles that they might not even recognize themselves.

What does it mean to be culturally responsive?

A culturally responsive coach responds to the way their client sees the world. When we’re culturally responsive, we recognize the system an individual is operating from, even if it's different from our own. And when we coach in a responsive way, we offer our clients the coaching interventions, tools and skills that will work in THEIR context rather than ours.

How would Justin advise coaches who want to cultivate cultural competency?

Begin with curiosity, and the recognition that as coaches our role isn’t to have all the answers. It’s simply to ask the right questions.

Want to Become a Coach?

One of our values at Lumia is that we dare to be different. Our coaches ignore the expectations society tries to impose on them, and seek to live from their own truth instead. If you are ready to step into your power as a coach, come check out Lumia Life Coach Training. Grounded in science, our ICF accredited program features authentic instructors, a robust curriculum, and business instruction to prepare you for liftoff.

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