Coaching Through a Gender and Justice Lens
When we are coaching for a better world, we must remember this undeniable truth: previous generations of women had a much higher tolerance for injustice in many forms.
This itself is a sign of great progress. What was once tolerable has become intolerable. This means people are expecting more of themselves and each other. This means we can, collectively, transform.
Yet, these subtleties play out very clearly in the helping professions, in ways that may be charged or unconscious, which is why I need to bring this to our attention today.
As a Certified Professional Coach, CPC, in Love, Sexuality and Human Connections, I have worked in the field of emotional and sexual health for over a decade. I coach for empowerment alongside healthy intimacy and relationships. I teach six-year-olds emotional intelligence; I support mothers of adolescent girls; I coach men in their 70s who are braving intimacy again. I watch these trends across the generations.
I also believe in investing in my own self-care, so I have seen these dynamics from the client perspective as well.
Three Guidelines for Coaching through a Gender and Justice Lens:
1) If you encounter a moment with a client who is striving past what you previously believed possible or fair, rejoice! You not only get to be witness to the benefit of generations of work for equality, you play a crucial role as facilitator to its expression in the world.
2) If you experience sadness for the injustices you tolerated when the bar was much lower,take heart. Set that sadness beside you while you finish the session, and pick it back up later in a moment of privacy. Gently mourn what may have been lost for you. Give it some real space, and then move on.
3) Strengthen yourself until you can adopt the stance: “I coach you beyond where I may have ever been.” To lift another up, we need a certain level of buoyancy in our own lives. When you notice a dip in your personal reserves, recognize humbly that your coaching may suffer. Take some time and replenish.
How do we recognize such a moment?
It is the coach who suggests to a younger woman client, “I put up with that level betrayal; you should, too.”
It is the coach, overseeing a couple’s negotiation for more balanced parenting, who comments harshly to a younger woman, “So, that’s not enough for you?”
It can be the helping-professional colleague who says, “No judgement on your need for fairness, but . . .”
Keeping one another down is not what coaching is about, nor is it the path to a fulfilled life.
So, I offer the following tools.
Three Tools to Coach Well in the Moment:
1) Try, “I’m impressed that you’re striving for that level of fairness in your relationship.”
2) Imagine your own grandmother, or great-grandmother, looking upon the coaching moment and smiling at all of it. If not a grandmother, you can call in the gaze of other pioneering women you respect. Know you are continuing their heroic work, here and now.
3) Bring a willingness to optimistically ask yourself, “What if this could become the new normal?”
It is said that progress in the intimate spaces, between lovers and in families, is slower because of their private nature. This is especially true for sexual intimacy.
In a New York Times article, Dr. Darcy Lockman explores the disparity couples experience in domestic work, and especially parenting. She states, “Inequality makes everyone feel bad,” and continues, “Studies have found that people who feel they’re getting away with something experience fear and self-reproach, while people who feel exploited are angry and resentful. And yet men are more comfortable than women with the first scenario and less tolerant than women of finding themselves with the short end of the stick.”
I also believe most people, regardless of gender, have had the experience of hearing another’s story, and realizing suddenly, “Wait, this is possible?!” When your eyes have been opened to the fact, “I put up with that?!” something is naturally rattled.
In a moment, the bar has been raised, and you see you had been living beneath it.
Still, as professional and ethical coaches, we must always coach our clients above the line of possibility.
As Melinda Gates says, “Gender equity lifts everyone…Women’s rights and society’s health and wealth rise together.” How do women continue to strive for greater prosperity and an equal footing among men and other genders? By feeling safe and encouraged—or at least, determined. Audacity, vision, self-regard, striving and interpersonal imagination must all be celebrated in the safe and trusted space of coaching.
Every moment that conveys, “Yes, go even further!” is ultimately a gift to the client and to everything meaningful in our world.
Thank you for mentioning that you should take comfort if you feel unhappy about the injustices you endured when the bar was much lower. My sister claims to be feeling really depressed these days. I’ll advise her to contact a female life coach so she can manage her grief.