Do we need different lenses?

“When it comes to social difference, inquiring about, and working with identity in coaching, requires us to extend the frame of our consciousness and our understanding.”

Change in coaching inevitably involves questions about identity- being and becoming, belonging, agency, meaning, and meaning-making. Our identity, and the way we think about it and experience it is in turn shaped by, and situated in, the wider context and currents of the present and the past. Who we are, how we are seen, how we get in and get on in organisations, in our relationships, and in our total life space are often compelling themes in the work of coaching. And it is arguably in shifting our perspective on, and reconfiguring our sense of who we are, that we make deep and long-lasting change. When it comes to social difference, inquiring about and working with identity in coaching, requires us to extend the frame of our consciousness and our understanding.

Many of us may feel ill equipped or anxious about questions of social difference, about naming or pointing to differences in lived experience, about talking about oppression, marginalisation, minoritisation, ‘othering’, let alone addressing topics to do with equity, diversity and inclusion (EDI). I have recently been introduced to the work of Dr Ken Hardy, a psychotherapist, who talks about the importance of having both will and skill for this kind of work. As relational coaches, it behoves us to work with deep regard and respect for our coachees’ self-determination and autonomy, recognising that we are equally human. At the same time, we hold an ethical responsibility to honour the many threads of experience and aspects of identity that are present in the lives of coachees, and coaches, in a way that recognises reality. The reality that social differences carry different social value, and that these differences in value and esteem, in turn, have both meaning and real-world consequences. Differences, meanings, and consequences that show up, for us as coaches, for our coachees, and in the relationship between us. Deploying what Marie-Anne Chidiac and Sally Denham-Vaughn conceptualise as ‘ethical presence’ (Chidiac & Denham-Vaughn, 2020), in our coaching practice may be invaluable. It gives us a way to notice and attend to issues of power, privilege, and potency, that is both relational and situated in the wider socio-cultural context.

In our recent explorations David Birch and I have sought out new ways of seeing, looking, understanding and working with the themes of identity and EDI using three distinctive lenses. Looking through these new lenses in individual and team coaching can help us to keep equity in focus, to prioritise the co-creation of psychological safety for diversity to be expressed, and to establish a secure base for inclusion in our relationships.