Three reasons I became a coach, and why I wish more women of colour had access to coaching
What do you really want?
These five words changed my life. They are also a big part of the reason I wish more women of colour had access to coaching.
I was 35 and working with an executive coach for the first time.
We were tackling the tricky topic of my next career move as I prepared to exit an organization that I loved because my role in it had never been quite right for me. My CEO and I had had one courageous conversation after another about making it work, and we had finally embraced that I would need to look elsewhere for the impact and growth I was seeking.
My coach and I were several sessions into working together and, despite having generated a pretty good picture of what I wanted my next challenge to look like, I found myself seriously considering an opportunity that was out of alignment with it.
I had some good reasons for considering this out-of-alignment opportunity.
Also, I was aware that I was mostly entertaining it because an organization had recently invited me all the way to the reference check stage for a role I had really wanted before its last minute decision not to fill the position crushed my dreams of an exit with my next challenge already lined up.
What do you really want?
Being asked that question as I drifted through the motions of a pros and cons list was life changing.
I wanted the role that I had just lost, or something even better than it. The opportunity before me had some pros; but, it wasn’t really what I was looking for.
Using thoughtful questions and expert listening skills, my coach guided me to the development of a solid plan. If I decided to take this opportunity (or something like it,) I would approach it as a stepping stone. A move that would get me closer to what I wanted but not all the way there. A move that would set me up for another future move.
Three reasons I became a coach
That life changing conversation is the first reason I decided to become a coach.
I believe in coaching as an effective tool to help us identify where it is that we want to go, and to get us there. I have seen that happen with my own clients. And, I have experienced it myself.
I took the stepping stone role. Having a strong grasp on why I took it allowed me to negotiate some things into the opportunity unique to my circumstances. My salary, sure, but also recognition of my executive experience and therefore access to decision makers.
This all set me up very well for the career moves that followed. Two years later I was in a plum role that I never would have had access to without having taken the stepping stone role. Three years later I landed a role significantly better than the one I’d once been so upset to lose.
Not a thought leader but a thought partner
I’ve written about how much I love community and connection here and here. While I am not creating new episodes anymore, you can listen to the two seasons of the podcast I used to produce and host about how to nourish community here.
One of my favourite parts of my years as a people manager was supporting my team members’ growth. I’m a former volunteer crisis line counsellor. I’m a professional facilitator. A big part of my legacy at the adult summer camp I used to attend is co-creating a space holding program.
I dream of a world where more of us have more “us” in our lives, and so it likely comes as no surprise that to me, the relational nature of a coaching partnership is one of its key benefits.
I believe there’s some magic that gets created in the quiet pause between a coach and client after a particularly powerful question or answer.
Of course, as a creator of content, I understand how sometimes just the right article, meme, or podcast is exactly what we need to open us up to new possibilities.
Yet, I believe fundamentally that we are better together. So while there may be times we need a thought leader to usher in new ways of thinking, a lot of times what we need is not a thought leader but a thought partner. Someone to help us find the right answer for us, within us. To help us surface it, to break it down into a plan, and then, to hold us as we implement it.
The second reason I became a coach is because it leverages the power of intentional human connection.
And why I wish more women of colour had access to coaching
The evidence around the barriers women of colour experience in their professional lives keeps piling up. Even if it didn’t, we know what we know.
At 35, I sought coaching because I found myself at a juncture in my career where the signals I was receiving around my value were wildly destabilizing.
I had gone from being a young executive in the federal public service where seasoned policy leaders lamented my decision to leave for the nonprofit sector, to a nonprofit staffer with a senior title who was nonetheless often assumed to be responsible for bringing the coffee.
To me, imposter syndrome wasn’t the right name for what I was experiencing. I had experienced my fair share of imposter syndrome when I first became a people manager in my late 20s at the same time as dealing with a discriminatory boss. It hadn’t been easy but I had dealt with it, and I had moved on.
What I was experiencing was prove it again bias.
I was constantly having to prove, again and again, that someone who looked like me was, in fact, a very capable and experienced strategic leader. And it was exhausting. And eventually, I started to doubt I would ever push past this period of being regularly underestimated.
The third reason I became a coach is that I believe coaching can be a game changer for women of colour.
I hired my own coach at 35 and did so at a time when I was on the verge of exiting full-time employment. It wasn’t an easy time to spend that kind of money yet I’m convinced that without my coach in my corner I would not have navigated that transition nearly as well as I did.
I had some amazing friends and colleagues who supported me with some powerful insights and hype; but, none of them was positioned to help me develop a plan and implement it as I faced that difficult time in my career journey.
Given the systemic barriers we need more support in our careers, not less
My coach was not a woman of colour, and she didn’t fully get how being racialized impacted my experience; but, she did get that I was not in a place where I had what I needed to thrive. And, she did know how to offer me the thought partnership I needed to get clarity on what to do to get back to such a place.
Would our partnership have been even more impactful if she had understood my experience as a racialized woman? I think so.
This won’t be universally true but I believe my experience as a racialized woman in the workplace allows me to build a unique coaching connection with women of colour. Many of us rarely get access to career and leadership development opportunities that centre our intersectional identities and my ability to do that through my lived and learned expertise is valuable.
I also believe that given the systemic barriers we face we need more support with our careers than most, and instead all too often we get less. While I don’t think it’s fair that as women of colour one of our few options for addressing systemic barriers is to seek support individually, I also connect deeply with adrienne maree brown’s emergent strategy principle that: “Small is good, small is all. (The large is a reflection of the small.)”
If you are a woman of colour interested in finding a coach and you work for an employer with a learning and development budget (which all employers should have; but, I know not all of them do), I strongly recommend you ask them to cover the cost of your coaching engagement. And, if hiring a coach would have to come out of your own pocket and funds are tight, I want you to know that there are coaches out there like me who will do what they can to try to ensure cost isn’t a barrier to you accessing this valuable tool.
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