Facing Race, Equity & Diversity in the Coaching Industry: 10 Considerations

April 18th, 2018

I’ve spent more than 10 years of my career as an educator and coach in the diversity/cultural competence/ racial equity field. I’ve done trainings and coaching for nonprofits of all sizes, schools, school districts, and corporations. The work is hard. But I love it.


As a biracial Latina (racially white/black, ethnically Latina) I have experienced privilege and systemic oppression, microaggressions and overt prejudice, access and inequity. My family - a multi-racial, multi-colored blend of rice and beans, collard greens, and ham and cabbage - has had every extreme and in between experience of the access and opportunity spectrum.


This is why I’m so committed to increasing access, creating equity, and dismantling systems of oppression while also helping people build socially responsible, impactful businesses that create freedom for themselves and their loved ones.


Lately, I’ve been thinking about how my consulting work in diversity, equity, and inclusion intersects with the coaching industry and how I might be of service. At the same time, I’ve been part of more and more online discussions about the lack of diversity in the coaching and personal development world.   


So, here is a list of 10 things to consider as you’re reflecting on the lack of diversity in the coaching world or in your individual practice. It’s not a comprehensive list and you might think that some of these things are obvious but I promise you, they are not. Everyone is at a different place in their journey and you just might be a little further along.


But before we dive in, let me ask you for one thing: be open to what I am sharing here, try to stick it out till the end, expect discomfort and know that on the other side of discomfort, is growth.


1. Color Blindness


We can’t fix problems until we see them. Color blind approaches in the coaching world means that we aren’t looking at the reasons why the industry is overwhelmingly white and how we might be contributing to that. Seeing color doesn’t make you bad, or a racist, but not seeing color definitely makes fixing the problem impossible.  


I’ve heard coaches say things like “I don’t see color” and “I treat everyone the same”, and “this isn’t an issue for me because I’ve had clients of color before”. We have to get comfortable seeing color because realizing that people are marginalized and excluded because of color will help us do better.


2. People of Color (PoC) don’t see themselves reflected in your business or service


If I go to your website will I see a picture of you sitting in a coffee shop or twirling on the beach? These images send messages that say “I’m free! I can work in my favorite coffee shop and go to the beach and hang out… even if it’s Tuesday afternoon”. Right? That is all great. I love it and I want that kind of freedom, so I might hire a coach who can teach me how to get that.


But, will I also see images that say “I’m a business owner of a multicultural, inclusive business”,  “I’m committed to social justice and anti-oppression”, “I serve clients of all races and ethnicities”, “I travel the world and deeply care about the people in the communities that I go and visit regularly”.


Seeing oneself reflected in your business means more than sharing the same skin color or ethnic background. A person can see themselves reflected in your business if you share the same values, you have experience supporting people like them, and you use language in your marketing that signal that you get them.


3. You’re not prepared for what it takes to create a safe environment.


One of the things that People of Color tend to think about before deciding to participate in a conference, retreat, school, job, bar, festival, a summer time cookout is… “will I be the only person of color there”. The second thing is “do I have enough energy to deal with white people that I don’t know”.


That second question is based on a montage of experiences dealing with inappropriate comments, glances, inaccurate assumptions, and racist comments disguised as compliments (aka microaggressions).


Verbal microaggressions are phrases like, “Where are you really from”, “you’re so articulate”, “can I touch your hair”, or “Oh, you’re Puerto Rican. I love Puerto Rico. Say something in Spanish?”. There are also non-verbal and environmental microaggressions like staring, or avoiding eye contact, touching, and holding an event in a space that isn’t welcoming to people of color (LGBTQ people, or differently abled people... ).


Are you prepared to monitor your Facebook groups, mastermind retreats, and group calls for microaggressions (or worse)? Do you know how you would respond if someone in your group programs makes a comment about “illegals” on a group call? Or do you assume that it’s something you don’t need to worry about?


If you take the position that everyone is entitled to their own beliefs and free speech then you might be creating harmful spaces in your community and you have to take responsibility for that.


Instead, learn about appropriate responses to these types of issues and practice calling yourself and others out when they are exhibiting harmful, racist, or otherwise discriminatory behaviors or language.


4. Teaching practices that ignore systemic racism and oppression


Now, of all the things I am sharing in this article this might be hardest for people to consider so I’d love to ask you to reaffirm your commitment to being open and reading the whole thing before you disagree with me.


Teaching people that we create everything in our life is tone deaf and perpetuates white supremacy.


So many teaching practices in the life, business, and personal development coaching world center the Law of Attraction or manifestation as the key to creating a healthy, wealthy, free life and when things aren’t going right it’s because something is wrong with the client’s mindset.


    Before telling you why this is wrong, harmful, and sorta racist I will say this...


I believe that we create many of the things in our life, I believe that we can create better lives for ourselves and that part of that work is shifting our own perspective and adjusting our mindset. And, I believe that we are responsible for our own lives. I won’t argue with that for a moment.


What I won’t do is ignore the intentional oppression and marginalization of people of color over hundreds and hundreds of years, how many of those practices are still in place today, and how those practices resulted in some people having access to things while other people do not have access to them. That is not about anyone's “mindset”. That is about structural racism.


Think of it this way. There are people who, throughout our history, sat around tables to think up ways to prevent people of color from having access to wealth, housing, education, healthy food, health care, and social capital and who made it easier for other people to have those things. This means there are people who have things that they, themselves, did not “manifest”; the things they have are based on their entry in a system that was designed to grant them access to it.


Much like the way you strategically optimize your website to improve customer conversion, people have strategically created systems to optimize the chances that White people will have more access to opportunities than people of color.


We did not manifest our way to Jim Crow because of our collective mindset, we do not have a gender wage gap because women have not manifested equal pay, and we do not have a Prison Industrial Complex because men of color focus on too much negativity.


Is there a place for Law of Attraction and manifestation work in your coaching practice? Absolutely! But if this is the center of your practice and your core strategy you just might not attract people of color into your practice.


5. You’ve done a lot of personal development but you may not have faced your own identity, biases or privileges.


Understanding how your identity impacts your coaching practice, your core values, and the techniques that you use, is essential to your personal growth. If you’re in a personal development program that has not asked you to reflect on what you’ve learned about race, ethnicity, ability, gender, etc. then you have missed a big part of your own journey.


Racism, prejudice and discrimination, even when it is implicit and accidental, is harmful to everyone including the people who hold those beliefs. So, if you haven’t confronted the programming that you’ve had about race you can’t be totally free, and you can’t serve your clients as your best self.


6. The cost & commitments of coaching


It’s just a fact that PoC, as a community, earn less money, have more expenses, and have less discretionary income. They are more likely to have single income households, more debt, less savings, decreased access to credit, and are less likely to have a rich uncle Joe who can make an investment in them or their business. (Center for American Progress, 2018).


    And coaching can be expensive.


I’m not going to ask you to change your rates and I’m not going to tell you that PoC can’t pay for your services but I’ll ask you to consider this: if diversity is important to you, creating some more affordable offers might be a starting point and those people might even decide that your higher end programs are something they want to invest in in the future.


If your starting point is a 5- or 6- figure investment over the course of a year then you just might not be accessible.


The other thing is that PoC are less likely to have a safety net which means that a few small unanticipated events can cause months of financial ruin. This makes long term commitments really scary.


And before you say to yourself “well that’s their fault, they should have savings” remember #5. This system has been created for people to start and stay behind. PoC’s might be more likely to sign up for programs that are lower cost and have shorter time commitments, at least at the beginning of your coaching relationship.


7. But, you’re not a racist…


This article isn’t about determining whether or not you are a racist. This article is asking us to 1) face that issue that the coaching industry is not accessible and equitable for all people 2) take responsibility for our individual parts 3) work towards equity as a collective whole.


You may not be racist but that doesn’t mean that you’re not holding on to some subconscious biases that are rooted in racism. This is work WE ALL have to do, including PoC. We all have to evaluate our biases for implicit, explicit, and internalized racism, and other harmful ideologies like heterosexism, toxic masculinity, colorism, sexism, ableism, etc..  


8. You consider extra efforts to reach marginalized communities as “nice” things that you do instead of non-negotiable parts of your business.


If you feel like its “extra” or “burdensome” to take the steps to make your business more accessible for marginalized communities, then you have not fully committed to having a business that serves all people. The same way that coaches talk about finding your niche, and not being afraid to attract some and repel others you have to realize that if your audience is mostly homogenous it’s because you are attracting a homogeneous audience.


You need to take specific steps in order to create the community you want and you can’t see those as extra things.


9. Most the the coaches you follow look like you.


It is true that the coaching industry is overwhelmingly white but it’s not exclusively white. Do you follow any non-white coaches? Do you follow any non-white coaches that you haven’t met in person? Have you worked with any coaches of color?


How many PoC have been invited on your podcast or to be a guest contributor to your blog? How many have you collaborated with?


You get it right? If you want to create diversity among your clients, you have to create diversity in all aspects of your business and your life.


You will grow so much from it.


10. Resistance to this type of critique.


If you’ve made it this far then Thank You from the bottom of my heart. This article has taken hours of my time and over a year to have the guts to actually write. I’m afraid to share it because I know that there will be people who read this and hate it, and maybe even hate me for it.


If you’ve been feeling resistant to some of the ideas that I’ve put forth here that is actually fine. I would expect you to feel uncomfortable reading and reflecting on some of these things.


If you find yourself disagreeing with parts of this article, then I have to ask you to be open to the possibility that more than one experience can be true and that if one person's truth has been an experience of harm, isolation, and marginalization, it would serve us well to examine things a little more closely to see things from that person's perspective. We might be better if we all look a little closer.


But if you’re angered by it, that is part of the problem. This is not a personal attack on any individual person. It’s an examination of our industry based on conversations with many PoC, my own personal and professional experiences, and a whole lot of research. We need to be open enough to hear and understand the criticism of our industry so that we can improve it.


And we can improve it. We own this industry, we believe that it has the ability to transform people's lives and I think it gives us a great responsibility to try and make it more accessible to people who need support.


So where do we go from here?

We have a long road ahead of us. The reason that things are the way they are right now is because of years of systematic division, so it will take a long time to undo.


How do you feel about some of the suggestions I’ve made here? How do you feel about scholarship programs geared for marginalized populations? Sliding scales? Low-cost programs? A new marketing campaign?


Are you dragging your feet about it? When the budget gets tight will that be the first thing cut?


Committing to equity and inclusion is not the same thing as being open to welcoming people of all backgrounds, races, religions, genders, etc. Committing is about doing what it take to create your vision. 


To help you on that journey, I've put together a toolkit of resources and steps that you might take on your own as you explore this further.


Click Here to access the Equity & Diversity Toolkit for Coaches


I hope you'll be open to continuing this conversation with me. You can reach me on Facebook and Instagram or you can send me an email to hello@trudilebron.com . I’d be happy to connect with you.


If you have any questions about any of the ideas here, want to go deeper with your own awareness or if you want to share this message with your audience feel free to contact me. I'd love to talk about how I could support you.




*I’d like to give a special shout out to everyone who reviewed this article, gave me critical feedback, and pushed me to go deeper. You all know who you are. Thank you :)