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White leaders can sometimes experience a difficulty in carefully navigating, with high levels of trepidation in dealing with cases such as: a) how to handle promotional merit between black and white members of staff and b) conflict and grievances between the two, fearing that if they show any bias to the white staff that they will be judged as being racist.

How would you supervise a coach who says this: “From personal experience, it’s the double edge sword of being a Black woman and a coach? Or should I rather say the source of information and experience. What I mean by this is that in South Africa our education system, even in the private schools is still made up of majority White teachers, just like it was more than 20 years ago. It is always interesting for me when I enter a room as a facilitator and there are white males, that I am undermined firstly because I am Black and secondly that I am a woman. There is a constant challenge of can she impart knowledge to us? So as Black female coach the pressure is on if you are coaching a White male.

How do we navigate the business of coaching when lines are drawn according to race? Here’s what a Black coach in practice described: “I have been approached by organisations that told me that they are looking only for Black coaches, as their employees are Black and that they have a need to be coached by someone Black, no more White coaches.” What about organisations that actively screen out Black coaches – what will you do as a White coach if you become aware of this?

Multicultural Coaching with Sensitivity to Race

There is a lot of research and guidance on multicultural counselling over the years. Coaching professionals can draw from this established work as we navigate the realities of multicultural coaching in the SA context. Some strategies that coaches could use in being more competent in this dimension of their work could include:

Supervision. Sensitivity around race has been a common issue that comes up in coach supervision experience. Supervision is a safe space to explore how race, gender, discrimination experiences play out in coaching. Coaches can reflect on how comfortable they are dealing with race in coaching; whether the issue is avoided, dismissed or confronted and how. Supervision is a great space to notice what racial experiences in the SA context evoke in both coach and coachee. How do we display sufficient empathy with our damaging historic past and still hold hope in the democratic transformation that is being worked out in the lives of both coaches and coachees.

Multicultural competence: When Affirmative Action was introduced in the early 90’s most SA organisations embarked on diversity training and multicultural sensitisation. This was useful in opening up the space for dialogue between Africans, Whites, Coloureds and Indian people. Many organisations have assumed there is no need for diversity awareness now that we are well on our way into the new SA, which is a real pity because we still have work to be done. Coaches should invest in developing their multicultural competence with specific reference to race and coaching in SA. There is value in Black and White peer mentoring and/or the willingness to actively expand the racial profile of coaching clients.

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