Research Paper By Courtney Anderson
(Career Coach, UNITED STATES)
The purpose of a career coach is, among other things, to partner with a client in order to develop and implement a plan for a career transition. The plan elevates the strengths of the client to overcome barriers that have stalled the client’s ascension. In order to comprehensively assist African-American female clients, the coach must understand how intersectionality affects the coaching process and the professional life of the client. The theory of intersectionality asserts that relationships between different elements of a person’s identity – such as gender, nationality, race, sexual orientation and class – act in an interdependent manner. When the relationship between these elements leads to systemic inequities and oppression within society, this results in discrimination in multiple forms against an individual. It is common for African-American females to internalize the negative stereotypes that society bestows upon them.
This internalization is often manifested in low-self esteem, stress, and other adverse health issues. If a coach is knowledgeable of theory, the plan to assist the client can be tailored to address the obstacles within the client as well as the external barriers that are created by the intersection of the client’s traits. This paper will illustrate the benefits that career coaching can provide African-American women by describing the unique needs that affect their professional lives. After making the case for the usefulness of career coaching for this population, details on how the recognition of intersectionality will yield positive results in career coaching will be provided.
Although there is little scientific evidence on the benefits of career coaching, there is a plethora of anecdotal evidence, which shows that career coaching has the strong potential to provide an upward trajectory in a current occupation, particularly for minorities.[i] From a systemic point of view, the decision-making process for pay, promotion and hiring faced by African-American females requires support from a coach who is prepared to deal with such discrimination. However, the coach must also bear in mind that the African-American female coaching client has unique personal traits like any other client, and the structural inequities created by racism do not fully compose the client’s persona. The opportunities for coaching an individual affected by intersectionality can be broadly categorized as: (i) controlling objective elements of disproportionality; (ii) responding to discriminatory situations; and (iii) applying specific techniques to avoid feelings of victimization.
controlling objective elements of disproportionality
Given the structural inequities in the United States due to racism and sexism, African-American females are confronted with challenges to their career path because of their race and gender. Historically, the African-American population has been unemployed at rates higher than the general population.[ii] The unemployment rate for blacks with college degrees was almost double that of whites in 2009.[iii] Much like intersectionality causes discrimination to affect African-American females on various levels, there are multiple reasons for this disproportional event.
Studies show that, all other things being equal, black people have a more difficult time getting hired than white people.[iv] Also, research in the labor market has proven that discrimination against a person due to their gender and race, and the layered adverse effects when an individual is a female minority, play a large role in minority women earning less money and being promoted less often than their counterparts. [v] The salary disparity between men and women is another unfortunate reality of the labor market.[vi] The coach and the client must ascertain if the client believes that these are rules of the world that cannot be changed or removed, or if the client has the ability to affect these harsh statistics. Managers often report than men are more likely than women to ask for pay raises and promotions. Exploring how the client can assert herself in this manner is an integral part of career coaching. Understanding how the value of respect and being treated as an equal aligns with professional goals requires the coach to support the client as she expresses what equality means to her, and also how equality is prioritized. If a coach is mindful of the powerful negativity that results from intersectional discrimination, the coach will recognize the need to incorporate negotiation methods into coaching that focus on self-confidence. With respect to getting hired initially, understanding the needs of the employer can be brought to the surface through powerful questions. Asking the client why a certain job is available and what skills the client has that would be a fit for the job can result in a more specifically tailored resume.
Mentorship helps individuals navigate the bureaucracy often inherent in most workplaces. A mentor is a valuable confidant whom one can rely on for assistance with the tangible and intangible aspects of job performance. Research has shown that mentoring positively impacts job and promotion prospects, but, unfortunately, meaningful relationships are difficult for African-Americans to create and maintain.[vii] The career coach should attain a complete sense of the resources available to the client to help her achieve her goal. To that end, asking the client about how a mentor may benefit her and developing action items that result in having one or more individuals who are invested in the client’s success should be a part of the coaching journey. Mentors do not have to work within the same organization as the client. A sponsor is defined as an individual within the same organization as the client with the authority to make promotional and/or hiring decisions that can advance the career of another. Women reap great benefits from sponsorship that studies have shown can result in up to a 30% increase in pay.[viii] The steps to secure a sponsor will differ from the steps to find a mentor. It is important that the client is knowledgeable about the benefits of a sponsor, because it will be important to form a sponsor relationship early in one’s career. Methods to seeking a sponsor and proactively seeking promotions must also be mindful of intersectionality elements. A coach can assist the client with being proactive in seeking out assignments and attending events where the likelihood of connecting with one or more sponsors is high.
Awareness of these statistics in important to have a full picture of the world in which the client lives. However, supporting the client as she takes ownership and responsibility of the events in her life is a central component of coaching. Specific reasons within the control of the client for the above-referenced disproportionality include access to resources, inclusion in professional networks, and the underutilization of skills that have the potential to create income streams. Coaching can support unemployed clients as they identify what reasons for unemployment are within their control and create a plan to address them.
responding to discriminatory situations
Career coaches must be aware of the credentials that can provide clients with the advantage the need to have a successful job search or promotional inquiry. There are a number of other avenues that one can pursue in seeking out such a trajectory or transition. When composing ways to think through and implement healthy responses to discriminatory situations, the coach should incorporate the theory of intersectionality in the following ways: (i) understanding the client’s underlying beliefs that tie her gender and/or race to her strengths and/or weaknesses; (ii) aligning the client’s goals to the client’s values to incorporate the intangible benefits of being treated equally into career advancement; and (iii) partnering with the client to identify and break through obstacles to achieve the stated goals. If a client can identify subconscious thoughts about intersectionality within herself, the pathway through obstacles can be much less resistant. When the obstacles are discriminatory situations, having a centered approach when faced with predicaments can provide clarity and calm to what could be an emotionally-charged situation.