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Coaching

Diversity, Equality and Power

This article is adapted from Sunny Stout Rostron’s new book, Business Coaching Wisdom and Practice: Unlocking the Secrets of Business Coaching (2009) which is available from Knowledge Resources (www.knowres.co.za)

“Diversity is about difference: in equality, power, and worldview”

Sunny Stout Rostron and Marti Janse van Rensburg

To truly honour diversity requires genuinely diverse thinking, including an appreciation of difference, and an elimination of punishment for being different. Crucially, it must highlight authority issues (i.e. who has the power?), and the fundamental issue of individuals being encouraged and permitted to think for themselves.

Equality and power are in many ways related. Power creates its own self-justifying worldview. This often becomes an unexamined rationalisation for a dominant group’s power in society. The mirror image of this is that it negates the view of those without power. Thus it can be very difficult to get those with power to see the prejudiced limits of their bias – particularly their limiting assumptions about the powerless – because it is precisely that which justifies their monopoly of power. On the other hand, to achieve full equality – politically, professionally and personally – those without power also need to come to grips with their own limiting assumptions (often dictated by those who have had power over them). In both cases, for the powerful and the powerless, being able to discard such limiting worldviews is liberating.

On an individual level, many problems are fuelled by our own self-limiting assumptions. We see through the filters of our own worldview, as we are all products of our personal histories, language, culture, experience, education, gender and social conditioning. And, although people live and work in a diverse world, we have become suspicious and mistrusting of our differences. In doing so, we discriminate against and disempower others on the basis of their difference, rather than welcoming these differences and encompassing other worldviews to enhance our own.

Having worked for many years with Nancy Kline in the Thinking EnvironmentÒ, I have come to understand how important it is for us as business coaches to first help ourselves, then our clients, by exploring the roots of our own discriminatory attitudes and behaviours. We do this by starting to examine “untrue” limiting assumptions which society and organisations make about people on the basis of their “group” identities and their place in the social and workplace hierarchies (Kline, 1999:88–89).

When working with a client in the coaching conversation, it is useful to help them learn to remove the limiting assumptions they hold about themselves, others and the systems in which they live and work. We actually need diversity in order to approach difficult situations with fresh thinking. Only true, liberating assumptions can free individuals and groups and help them to reclaim their self-esteem and influence. This, of course, means developing an awareness of our own prejudices, biases, limiting thinking and life conditioning.

It also means being able to see through a multiplicity of lenses – experiencing the world not just through your own individual perspective, but beginning to experience and understand the worldviews of those whose experience, education, background, hopes and fears are very different from your own. The business coach also needs to see through the lens of the organisation, the individual executive being coached, the society and community within which both operate – and to understand how their own limiting assumptions may prevent them from understanding other points of view.

To appreciate the power of diversity and equality, we need to operate from a foundation of really believing that people are created equal. We all need to work on developing an internal ease in the world of difference that we face every day.

References

Kline, N. (1999/2004). Time to Think: Listening with the Human Mind. London: Ward Lock.

Stout Rostron, S. (2009). Business Coaching Wisdom and Practice: Unlocking the Secrets of Business Coaching. Johannesburg: Knowledge Resources.

By Sunny Stout-Rostron Associates

Sunny coaches at senior executive and board level in corporate organizations and educational institutions. She has a wide range of experience in leadership and management development,  business strategy and executive coaching. With over 20 years’ international  experience as an executive coach, Sunny believes that there is a strong link between emotional intelligence and business results – she works with leaders and their  teams to help them achieve individual, team and organizational goals, gaining  wisdom and knowledge through their own experience.

One reply on “Diversity, Equality and Power”

This is one of my areas of interest. You’ve stated, in a very concise way, that ones own level of power necessarily prescribes ones assessment of the power of others, the value of others’ ideas, others’ credibility, etc…It also seems like your reaching for a very real-world application of the abstract notion of multiple lenses or multiple cultural perspectives.

I’m always looking for contributing authors. I’d be interested in establishing a relationship and possibly trading posts on occasion. We seem to write about similar things. Shoot me an e-mail if you have a chance. [thesameair@gmail.com]

Thanks,

Same Air

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