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Coaching for Diversity: Witnessing



I went to Washington to attend a Conference on Coaching for Diversity ten days ago. It was the first event of its kind. It brought together folks who both act as coaches on diversity and inclusion(D&I)-related issues as well as others who are interested in implementing a coaching practice into their own D&I program.


What was even more impressive was what was happening across the street on Capitol Hill. The timing of a conference on Coaching Diversity couldn’t have been more significant. The timing of the conference reveals an aspect of Coaching for D&I that is innovative and fertile. Is coaching for diversity an act of witnessing?


If I were reviewing the conference, I’d speak of the fantastic speakers, panelists, singers and storytellers that were there. It really was a wonderful program generating extraordinary energy! Unlike Canadians, Americans have no problem singing and dancing and cheering each other on so I found these occasions a tad overwhelming and it took a few breaths and many smiles to acclimate In many ways our Canadian experience and culture resembles its US counterpart, yet in others, it doesn’t. Aside from external manifestations of our dissimilar cultures, our understanding of diversity & inclusion differs as well.


I had just come from a conference in Toronto, Canada called 6 Degrees Toronto. I was at this same conference last year and was again struck by the depth of topics and discussions, the impressive array of thinkers from over 30 countries, the many welcoming young people, the incredibly open design of the sessions and the promise and power of the collective gathered there together. The experience was uplifting, the tools shared entirely practical, and the assembled tribe was activated by the very significant representation of people of many colours and origins.


The conference in Washington took place across the street from the Senate buildings where people were demonstrating their objections to the explosive hearings taking place concerning the confirmation of Judge Kavanaugh to the Superior Court of America. At the time, Dr. Ford was giving testimony about her sexual assault by Kavanaugh when they were both at University. The energy was electric on the street when I arrived in front of the conference centre and we all carried that energy with us throughout the day.


What was so special was that in light of these hearings, I felt a profound connection to the American experience: including the people demonstrating about Kavanaugh and the Americans hosting the conference despite our cultural differences. At one and the same time I felt like a witness to our cultural differences and a witness to a profound wave of resistance to the dominant male patriarchy.


The origin of the word “witness” arose from the phrase “bearing of witness” and means to "affix one's signature to (a document) to establish its identity" in the early 14 century. By 1580, it meant "to see or know by personal presence, observe" . Subsequently the term has evolved to reflect presence and the experience of an event for confirmation or evidence of something.

As I was attending a conference on coaching diversity at this time and place, I realized something profound about coaching diversity. It is that in coaching:

our role is to experience the change and the impact of change within our organizations and communities as witnesses.


Through our personal presence we are literally, “there” for each other. To be inclusive is to be present, to support, to be aware and literally to witness the experience of change that the individuals and people with them are facing.

This requires a. both/and perspective. We are both present and observing the experience of the other, quite distinct from “othering” where one ascribes characteristics and qualities onto another being.


Simply put, we are meant to own these experiences for ourselves and bear witness to their impact.


If you’d like to orient your organization towards a culture that includes a coaching diversity practice, contact margot@margothovey.com

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© 2019 by Margot Hovey, PhD