Dr. Reid speaking at an event, and as the only person of color.
Source: Joshua Reid/Personal Photo of Dr. Dawn Reid
In my research to support my February podcast topic “Standing Out as A Black Coach,” I found it disheartening that I could not find sufficient, professionally certified Black coaches, especially being a coach of color, myself. This made me ponder my personal and professional experience. I was the only Black participant in my training program. This is one of the reasons why I wanted to establish a coach training program that purposely considered cultural values as an important aspect of learning and development. I was only one of two board members of color when I first joined my industry organization’s chapter. When I participate in events, like the Pennsylvania Women’s Conference, there was a small number of coaches of color (or men for that matter) who provided coaching during the event. My reflect left me questioning why and wondering how other coaches of color felt. Since I am aware personal anecdotes are not objective evidence, I began to dig deeper to find evidence on the lack of Black coaches, starting with the International Coaching Federation—one of the oldest coach credentialing bodies in our industry. I also searched Linked-In and Facebook groups. I found it concerning that there is an insufficient number of black coaches who are professionally certified, let alone own an accredited training program that I could find or identify. I also found it interesting that many self-regulatory bodies, such as the International Coaching Federation, Board of Certified Coaches, or the International Association of Coaches have a predominately (and ‘almost’ exclusively), white membership in some chapters or regions. I wanted to further go down the rabbit hole to learn what was this about. But I realized this was going to take a lot more work than I anticipated. So, I focused on social media groups of which I belong to a few. Some of these groups are predominately white and some are predominately Black. But none diverse enough to represent the overall population.
As I spoke with different coaches and coaching companies on social media platforms (most did not want to be identified), I asked a familiar questions that I heard asked in a few coaching-focused social media groups “where are black coaches or coach training programs owned by people of color, “do you work with diverse clients.” or “do you you feel the coaching industry was diverse enough?” Not too many people responded or the answers were “not sure,” “don’t know,” or “maybe try a coaching directory that caters to this demographic.” I was disappointed that these responses came up often. Furthermore, when I asked people in general about coaching and working with a Black coach, I often heard “coaching is for white people.” Or “I am not telling anyone about my problems if they don’t understand my experience.” Unfortunately, these responses are consistent with help-seeking behavior literature (Reid, 2019).
I do not want to insinuate that professionally certified Black coaches do not exist, or that organizations are lacking in their approach to be inclusive. In fact, many organizations in the coaching industry are targeting their message to capture diverse members and programs. However, the challenge (as I see it) is having a message that resonates with people of color interested in the coaching industry by reputable entities. Meaning, the message must build trust and demonstrate inclusivity, not just have a Black face or image. Right now, there seems to be a theme among communities of color that either coaching is for white people, or coaching is the same as therapy or giving advice. So, there is a disconnect between the message and what some members in communities of color interpret as being for or against them.
It is important to remember, coaching is still a young industry and profession. Likewise, aspiring coaches (regardless of social or cultural identity) do not fully understand coaching as a craft you hone. Nor are they clear about the importance of getting evidenced-based, accredited training, certification, or credentials that establishes you as a professional coach. Furthermore, the media does not present coaching as a legitimate experience or role. For example, many sitcoms (e.g., Family Guy, The Conner’s, Claws) often focus on coaching as being fake or a joke. When in fact coaching is an evidenced-based approach and profession with empirical efficacy (Grant, 2013). Another problem is anyone can call themselves a coach even if they are not. This message leaves those interested in the industry confused and unsure how to identify a legitimate professional coach, or to become one. In addition, for some coaches of color, the added mindset consumers typically do not take Black businesses seriously can have a negative impact, too, on the visibility and soundness of coaches of color and the companies they operate. Therefore, there is interest and a need for Black coaches to pursue a path towards legitimacy. However, to get a “seal of approval” by an accrediting or credentialing body is expensive. For some of the coaches of color I spoke with, they felt the expense was too much, and this cost kept them from pursuing coach-specific professional certification or credentialing.
Why is knowing how to find Black coaches important? Finding coaches of color is needed for two reasons. The first reason, people are more likely to engage more favorably with someone they can personally or professionally identify with (Nakash & Saguy, 2015). Our sister field, counseling, has a body of evidence that supports the ethnicity of the therapist can play a significant role in reaching positive outcomes for some clients (Nakash, Nagar, & Levav, 2015; Van Ryn, Burgess, Malat, & Griffin, 2006; Williams & Mohammed, 2009). Therefore, we can theorize this would apply to coaches as well—especially since people in general confuse counseling and coaching as being similar. The second reason, coaching is a beneficial tool and may be able to improve help-seeking behavior for vulnerable populations (Reid, 2019). People of color are considered a vulnerable group when it comes to seeking mental or physical help. As such, I believe coaching can be a tool to reduce help-seeking avoidance. Likewise, by improving the visibility of professional coaches of color, theoretically, we can improve accessibility to Black coaches and coaching programs owned by people of color. NOTE: this is not about giving preferred treatment to one group over another. My suggestions are more about improving the visibility of underrepresented coaches and programs in the industry.
For Coaches of Color (or any underrepresented social or cultural identity):
- Pursue professional, evidenced-based training with a reputable institution. You can start by searching for organizations that provide coach-specific training with one of the industries recognized credentialing bodies in the coaching industry (ICF, BCC, IAC, etc.).
- Become a member of one of the coaching industry’s credentialing bodies.
- Get your program accredited and listed with a reputable organization.
- Broaden your visibility through writing blog articles or having a podcast. The goal here is to establish yourself as an influencer or subject matter exert in the coaching industry.
- Be noticeably clear in your brand message on what coaching is and is not. And ensure you are educating your clients verbally and in your practice on what a coach looks like.
- Register yourself or business in many different coaching directories, not just ones for which you socially or culturally identify.
- Let people know where and how they can find you on and offline.
- Set yourself apart from those who call themselves coaches in name only, and those who are designated as professional coaches by their practice and actions.
For Coaching Organizations Seeking to Improve Diversity & Inclusion:
- Invite members of Black Organizations (along with others) in your community or region to experience coaching or learn more about how you support people of color through coaching (e.g., your events, link to your website or calendar).
- Highlight members who identify as Black coaches or have training programs owned by people of color (equally or as frequently with others coaches of other identities). NOTE: This can be done with any underrepresented social or cultural group that you want to include in your diversity efforts (e.g., men, LGBTG+, Asian, Hispanic, etc.).
- Hire or include more Black-owned (or other underrepresented group) businesses or professionals to help with creating program diversity.
- Ensure your brand message is clear insofar as your organization welcomes and encourages diversity.
- Make membership economical or have a rigorous by cost-efficient way for coaches to become accredited or credentialed.
To learn more, or to find coaches who identify as Black or African American, contact Reid Ready® Life Coaching, LLC. We are a certified Woman-Owned and Minority-Owned business.