Intersectionality in Institutions: A Conversation with Dr. Justin Sitron

Lumia Coaching instructor Justin Stiron, PhD discusses intersectionality in institutional settings, and how cultural competency enhances our work as coaches.

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. In this episode, Noelle continues her conversation with Lumia Coaching Instructor, Dr. Justin Sitron. If you didn’t hear Part 1: Intersectionality in Coaching, you can catch it here. Subscribe to get new episodes weekly!
Dr. Justin Sitron

We believe the work of coaching is informed and strengthened by understanding intersectionality -- this is why we have an entire class on it within our coach training program! Our instructors are the lifeblood of our program, and in this podcast we’re inviting you to get to know Lumia Coaching instructor, Dr. Justin Sitron. 

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 teachers 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. He is an intercultural sexologist who practices as a researcher, educator, and coach.

Intersectionality in Institutions

In our previous episode, we discussed the concept of intersectionality, particularly as it relates to the relationship between coach and client. In this conversation, we’re taking the 10,000 foot view, discussing how principles of intersectionality operate at the organizational and societal levels.

(To catch Noelle and Justin’s earlier conversation, you can tune in for Part 1 here.)

Human culture is built on a system of norms and behaviors, and our structures serve to uphold and reinforce those norms. Social conditioning encourages people - particularly those who identify with the dominant culture - to believe that our institutions exist to support and protect us. And yet, when we look and listen with empathy, we realize that this is often far from the case. 

The reality is that our schools, businesses, and government entities at times do just the opposite of protecting and supporting us as individuals. This is especially true if a person is part of a marginalized or underrepresented group within society.

In the United States, a majority of the organizations, systems, and teams that we are required to navigate and participate in were created by wealthy, white, heterosexual men. Embedded within the foundation of these institutions are the values, perspective, and worldview of those who created and maintain them.

This is a simple historical fact.

And yet, when we hear the term “white supremacy,” it can spark all kinds of feelings and responses. What often comes to mind first are overtly racist organizations such as the KKK. We may not see it quite so clearly when considering our local school district, or the company where we report in for work each day.

The idea that American society itself is rooted in white supremist culture can be a difficult concept to grapple with. However, when we break it down into its component parts, it becomes a little bit easier to navigate. 

According to the National Education Association

“Characteristics of white supremacy that manifest in organizational culture, and are used as norms and standards without being proactively named or chosen by the full group. The characteristics are damaging to both people of color and white people in that they elevate the values, preferences, and experiences of one racial group above all others. Organizations that are led by people of color or have a majority of people of color can also demonstrate characteristics of White Supremacy Culture.”

A commonly referenced example of white dominant cultural norms in the United States is perfectionism and productivity.

When we step back and consider how an expectation of “perfection” or "productivity" at work isn’t necessarily shared by all cultures, we might begin to see the more subtle and unconscious ways that a dominant framework can influence and impact all members of a workplace, institution, or group. 

So, how do we address it?

As coaches, we’re called upon to understand our own cultural context, and the invisible ways that it impacts our clients. This includes a clearer understanding of the systems that exist, how they were formed, and how they are maintained and perpetuated. 

There are many ways of living "the human experience" that lie beyond the scope of what we know to be true - in whatever culture we were raised in, or currently a part of. 

Cultural competency is about not only understanding MY culture, but something about the other cultures that are out there in the world. It’s about seeing the limits of our own perceptions based on cultural conditioning, and exploring other perspectives and truths.

Many of our systems in American society are not designed for human happiness. They are designed for productivity, profit, and outcomes. The good news is that we live in a time when new systems are being birthed. But in many places today, the world isn’t yet ready to receive them. 

The work of our times is to clear the space so future generations can come in and build anew from the ground up. And coaches can play an important role in this re-imagining of what’s possible!

“Coaches are the EMT’s and lifeguards of the human experience.” - Dr. Justin Sitron

Coaching as a discipline has only been around for about 35 years. Positive Psychology was empirically validated in the 1990’s, and the science of neuroplasticity was only solidified in 2005. In terms of history, our current work occupies a millisecond of human history!

And we’ve arrived at exactly the right time.

Coaches are people who are trained to help others assess a situation and come up with a plan. Part of crafting that plan is seeing ourselves FOR ourselves, not as actors in a system that were born simply to do its bidding. 

Positive psychologist Kate Hefferon offers a simple framework for bringing more contentment, joy, and happiness into our lives - a powerful antidote to the weight of the systems that make us feel contricted.

According to Heffron, human beings generally need a balance of the following in order to cultivate internal joy:

  • ⅓ Achievement (physical or mental)
  • ⅓ Contentment (satisfaction in life)
  • ⅓ Hedonic (pleasure)

This is also where intersectionality comes into play!

The way we define each of these areas may look very different depending upon your cultural context. Let’s take a look at how we might understand and define these things from more than one frame of reference.


American dominant culture: 

  • A fit body
  • Education, degrees, certifications and awards
  • Professional success
  • Recognition, fame

Other cultural perspectives: 

  • Right relationship with others
  • Stewardship of the land
  • Rotating crops to keep the land healthy - nourishing both ourselves, and the places that support life


American dominant culture: 

  • Snuggly bed sheets
  • A great cup of coffee to start the day
  • A supportive conversation with a friend

Other cultural perspectives: 

  • Meditation
  • Being at one with the Universe
  • Centering one’s energy to vibrate in accord with the world around us


American dominant culture: 

  •  “Sex, drugs and rock and roll!”
  • Seeking bodily pleasure and happiness, avoiding pain

Other cultural perspectives: 

  • Meeting one’s potential and capacities
  • Enlightenment
  • The energy that arises from a web of interconnected relationships within a community, in contrast to “pairing up” around the concept of achieving romantic love.

As a coach, it’s important to not only understand where you’re coming from, but how your client views the world as well. Having access to different perspectives also serves as a way of widening the field of possibilities for yourself and your clients. Once a person can "see the Matrix," it becomes easier to decide how they would prefer to navigate within it.

When we widen our frame of reference, it expands our sense of the possibile. After all, there’s more than one way to define “the good life!”

Some questions for consideration:

  • What would happen if we found a way to understand each other, and what another person needs to express their preferences about what’s comfortable for them at work, or at school.
  • What would happen if companies and institutions designed themselves around the success of the people who are a part of those systems?

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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