Becoming Anti-Racist: How Coaching Needs to Evolve to Achieve Racial Equity

CoachHub · 26 August 2022 · 9 min read

A sweeping change in coaching is needed if coaching is to deliver racial justice and equity. For coaching to take an anti-racist approach, there must be a shift from past color-blind practices to one that is race-conscious. Events like the murder of George Floyd in 2020, and similar events, have highlighted the need for change in the US, but also across the world from Brazil to UK and Africa to Australia. Anti-racism movements are gaining traction in sectors across the globe. This has spurred conversations surrounding systemic racism and racial equity in coaching.

Research has confirmed  that blind spots exist within the coaching sector, just like many other industry sectors. A move toward a culture of racial justice and equity is now essential. Specifically there is a  need to address and to end the conscious and unconscious biases that arise from systemic racism. It’s necessary to acknowledge struggles related to racism experienced by Black, Indigenous and Other People of Color (BIPOC) communities. Only by raising awareness, revisiting current models and engaging BIPOC coaches, can the transformation of the coaching ecosystem begin to take place.

What does the data say?

Research by Charmaine Roche and Jonathan Passmore (2022) indicates a lack of specific data surrounding race in coaching. This is a glaring blind spot. Gender and language have been tracked in coaching studies, but race and ethnicity have been excluded by coaching providers and professional bodies alike. More information is necessary to understand inequalities within the current system. Through their research, Roche and Passmore have begun to provide this information. By undertaking a literary analysis and data collection from BIPOC individuals, the study provides a series of conclusions for an anti-racist approach to coaching.

Data Source 1: Focus groups

The first stage in collecting data was the formation of focus groups. The goal was to learn about racism/anti-racism within coaching. The study engaged active BIPOC coaches from the U.K., U.S.A., Kenya, South Africa and New Zealand. These groups enabled the collection of experiences from a variety of ethnic backgrounds.

Data Source 2: Interviews

To further gain information, interviews were administered by senior coaching professional association representatives. This added layer of protection and confidentiality maintained anonymity. It encouraged greater vulnerability when discussing the experience of racism in the workplace.

This research provides the opportunity to fill the information gaps. A pathway to address the blindspots in coaching. The data, obtained by partnering with BIPOC individuals, allows a progression forward. The study provides a starting point in a move towards an anti-racist approach in coaching.

Anti-Racism in coaching

What are the findings?

After gathering the data, Roche and Passmore used a thematic analysis to interpret the findings. Six themes emerged from the data analysis. By understanding these themes, we can address the issues prevalent in coaching as a result of systemic racism.

  • There is a tension between systemic racism and the strategies applied to address its impact. Some coaches will tackle issues head-on, while others are looking to simply survive.
  • For BIPOC individuals, a race-conscious approach is empowering in regards to identity. A colorblind approach ignores specific issues unique to BIPOC individuals. Acknowledging race-related issues acknowledges BIPOC identity and its intersectional complexities.
  •  It is important to understand the complexity of identity as it relates to social movements. As an example, the death of George Floyd and the subsequent social movements became polarizing because of how different organizations reacted.
  •  Systemic racism limits the role of BIPOC individuals in growing the coaching ecosystem. If BIPOC coaches are unable to give input, it detracts from the development of an anti-racist mainstream curriculum.
  • Systemic racism plays a part in forming individual identities. For example, the history and aftermath of colonialism plays a large role in the development of personal and professional identities of Indiginous individuals.
  • Empower BIPOC coaches by engaging them to develop systems and advise in curriculum development in mainstream coaching. One simple way to get started doing this is by identifying race related issues and engage BIPOC coaches on how to address them when creating curriculum .

Being informed is important if the goal is racial justice and equity within coaching. We can use these six themes as a springboard to start the conversation on systemic racism.

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Applying the data to our understanding of systemic racism in coaching

Through Roche and Passmore’s research, we can broaden our understanding of systemic racism. The information from the focus groups and interviews shed light on systemic racism in coaching. When we dissect the data and understand the emerging themes, we can narrow our focus to four core issues.

Exclusion and underrepresentation

There is a need to increase diversity within coaching pools. To serve diverse leadership, there must be an increase of BIPOC coaches. To take it a step further, the solution is not simply to add more people of color. It’s necessary to look at specific race representation. Only individuals who understand racial trauma are equipped to coach those who journey also experience it.

Coaching and coach training as “white spaces”

This is where the movement away from a color-blind approach stems from. Instead of promoting equality, color-blindness further alienates BIPOC individuals. People need to be seen for their intersectional identities to be understood. Not seeing color and race hinders a coach’s ability to understand an individual’s identity.

Corporate gatekeeping

Underrepresentation in coaching pools leads to a lack of diversity in corporate coaching. This leaves BIPOC individuals feeling like it’s a battle to break into white corporations. This struggle is summed up best by a South African coach from the research interviews:

“[If] I’m looking for a training or a coaching job in a white corporate, I need to take my white colleague, because they’ll listen to me only because he or she’s there and she’s white, they can hear more a white person than they can hear a Black person. [This] makes it very hard as a Black professional to get jobs in these corporates … because you must, kind of be introduced by a white person to go in.”


Analysis of current literature shows that race is largely ignored. Thus, there is a lack of focus on race-related issues in coaching. BIPOC coaches are beginning to develop their curriculums outside mainstream coaching. This is because they feel current programs do not adequately serve them or their clients.

It is not until all coaches are aware of systemic racism that we can engage in meaningful conversation to change the sector. Themes like racial identity and systemic racism are being addressed by BIPOC coaches. But, only through a sector-wide overhaul can we achieve racial justice and equity.

Next steps: Becoming anti-racist in coaching

From Roche and Passmore’s research and subsequent analysis, key issues are emerging that need addressing in coaching. Education and awareness is the first step. To engage in a shift toward anti-racism, there must be action taken. Two core values must be driving this shift if we are to achieve racial justice and equity.

Identity and empowerment

A common element of racial trauma emerged from the study’s interviews with BIPOC coaches. This centered around BIPOC individuals’ experience of having “the talk.” This “talk”, often from a trusted prominent figure in their life (such as a parent), focuses on navigating systemic racism. It addresses the dangerous situations BIPOC individuals too often find themselves in. Usually while living in predominantly white communities, and dealing with law enforcement.

Conversations about how to interact with police are commonplace in Black households. BIPOC coaches are calling for a corporate equivalent to this “talk” in coaching. This is a call to be seen and heard. To shed light on a specific issue of racial trauma and identity.

Driving the evolution of coaching

There is a lack of knowledge about race and race-related issues. This stems from a lack of inclusion in the coaching curriculum. To achieve racial justice and equity in coaching, it must start at the foundation. There is a need to include education around racial literacy and racial sensitivity. This is only achieved by partnering with BIPOC coaches.

A specific theme emerged around the impact of colonialism and the need to address it. This is a key issue of racial trauma and impacts Indigenous individuals across the globe. Alongside this, there is a need for holistic coaching. Honoring the heritage, beliefs, values and spirituality of all individuals. This blindspot highlights the lack of acknowledging the cultural differences of Indigenous people.

Recommendations for achieving change

Sector-wide change takes time. There is much work needed and many steps to take. Using what we’ve learned from Roche and Passmore’s research, and the themes that have emerged, we can pinpoint how to get started. These are recommendations for change to move to an anti-racist approach in coaching:

Acknowledgment and recognition

In order to move forward with change we need to engage BIPOC individuals to understand the gaps in the current system.

  • Understand the reality of systemic racism and its impact on individuals and organizations
  • Recognize the need to raise the profile of Racial Justice, Diversity, Equity, Inclusion and Belonging
  • Engage BIPOC individuals as pioneers in strategy for Racial Justice, Diversity, Equity, Inclusion and Belonging

Decolonize the curriculum

Once we understand the gaps in the way coaching curriculum operates, we can partner with BIPOC coaches to institute mainstream change.

  • Commission research to understand systemic racism and seek to understand forms of inequality within the coaching world
  • Diversify the way we train coaches by partnering with education providers and engaging them in strategies for recruitment and retention of BIPOC staff
  • Explore non-western approaches to coaching and how to include them in the curriculum
  • Integrate an understanding of racial identity theory and race-based trauma awareness

Increase representation and open access

Understanding race-related issues at a cultural and community level allows us to learn how to address racial inequalities in the foundation of coaching programs.

  • Recognize income disparity in BIPOC communities and offset this with low-cost courses and bursary opportunities
  • Understand the awarding gap in higher education and put in place mentoring programs for students
  • Commit to ongoing data collection within the membership and seek to balance membership equal to the population of the region
  • Review recruitment procedures to be aware of and counteract racial bias

Define and elaborate coaching for racial justice, equity and belonging

Once we have committed to educating ourselves, measurable systemic change will stem from teaching and training coaches at every level.

  • Commit coaches to deepen their understanding of anti-racism and maltreatment
  • Champion courses and programs pioneered by BIPOC individuals. Including racial and social justice, intersectionality and the power dynamics of systemic inequality
  • Train coaches to develop an understanding and sensitivity of race-related issues. Specifically on how these power dynamics can shape individual identity
  • Develop a system to measure authentic progress and put in place continual progress checks and accountability

These recommendations as building blocks mean nothing without the proper partnerships. To combat systemic racism, we must empower and engage BIPOC individuals in mainstream coaching.

4 calls-to-action for today’s leaders

Systemic racism has many complexities. It can seem like an unconquerable problem both globally and locally. Corporate culture needs changing, but the question that begs to answer is, what can individual coaches and mentors do?

  • Educate yourself on issues of race. Engage with BIPOC individuals and literature to understand the complexities of systemic racism.
  • Deepen your understanding of the complex nature of racial identity. Learn how socialization plays a role in this.
  • Develop a deeper understanding of Racial Justice, Equity, Diversity, Inclusion and Belonging.
  • Support individuals to develop anti-oppressive spaces at work, at home and in leisure.

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Bottom line

BIPOC coaches are already beginning to fill the gaps outside mainstream coaching. We must seek to partner with them to affect structural change. If the goal of coaching is individual transformation, we must leave behind the color-blind approach. A race-conscious approach empowers individuals and acknowledges their personal and professional identity. For the coaching world to take an anti-racist approach, it’s imperative to shift from a color-blind practice to a race-conscious one.

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