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Critical Race Theory & Coaching

04 Jul 2021 9:00 PM | Muhunthan Chanmugham

By Dr. Dawn C. Reid, PhD, ACC 

There is a lot of "buzz" around Critical Race Theory (CRT). Many of the coaches I mentor and train (especially those who identify as white) are not clear on what CRT is and why there is so much opposition towards it.  Actually, it appears that many nations as a whole, particularly the U.S., seem to be confused as well. 

We Are The City/Dr. Yvette Ankrah MBE, used with permission.

Diverse Community: Source: We Are The City/Dr. Yvette Ankrah MBE, used with permission.

For instance, in 2020, former president Donald Trump issued an executive order to cease diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) training because some of these training courses used CRT as a framework. Specifically, some Republican party members denounced CRT's merit and claimed CRT teaches racism and sexism, is divisive, and blames or scapegoats white men for the social ills that exist. As such, those who oppose CRT believe we should focus on exceptionalism and only the "good"  that has come from our past, ignoring the trauma racism and slavery has played in our nation. In addition, some who oppose CRT also deny that racism or sexism currently exists, which contradicts over 50 years of research and literature in the social science field on this topic. Therefore, opponents of CRT claim that racism is a past issue that no longer exists, and has no application in our current society. Any so-called racially-based experiences are exaggerated, media or liberal propaganda, or an excuse to justify lazy, apathetic behavior.

What is CRT?

Before I address the actual topic of CRT and Coaching, I wanted to first clarify what CRT is and why it's important to our field and society overall. CRT refers to the "practice of interrogating the role of race and racism in society that emerged in the legal academy and spread to other fields of scholarship," (George, 2021). Meaning, CRT is an academic or scientific exercise that  examines how the social construct of race is embedded in our institutions (e.g., legal system, education system, laws, policies, etc.). Kimberlé Crenshaw, a legal scholar, coined the term “CRT."  Likewise the concept of CRT has been around since the 1970s and has been researched worldwide. The purpose of CRT is to understand the inherent nature of institutional racism and how it creates a type of classism, where people of color (POC; specifically those of African descent, but also any group not identifies as being part of the dominant social order) are positioned to be a type of "lower" class group and justifies why they may have less success or limited access to resources. Furthermore, CRT proposes institutional racism in our society perpetuates the inferiority of  POC, which impacts how different groups are treated and unconsciously condones our implicit and explicit biases we have towards other social groups. Therefore, CRT suggests institutional racism creates systemic and sanctioned social inequities.

Additionally, CRT investigates the role of gender, sexual orientation, diverse abilities, and how other social identities intersect. For example, a male who identifies as gay and Black may have different social experiences or social injustices than a female who identifies as Asian, biracial, and Buddhist. Therefore, CRT offers a critique of how intersectionality impacts lived experiences. The outcome of CRT is to identify ways in which society normalizes the exclusion of or deem "abnormal" individuals who identify as non-binary, and outside of the socially determined concepts of male/female roles. CRT also suggests those who do not conform to age expectations, religious expectations or what is socially described as "normal" (i.e., white/Anglo-Saxon, male, Christian, and/or Eurocentric) are relegated to second-class citizenry. I have coined this term "Critical Social Identity Theory" or CSIT, which is a term that I believe expands on the application and implication of CRT towards other social identity constructs, and brings more awareness to intersectionality. I plan to write more about this at a later date. But, a great article to read on the tenets of CRT (and by association CSIT) and its origin would be: "A Lesson on Critical Race Theory" by Janel George. In the reference/resource section, I have also provided additional reading material to support this article discussion and CRT. In particular, review the list of racist and misogynistic laws that were enforced and some are still on the books in some states or towns: A History of Racist U.S. Laws.

It is important to note that CRT proposes our society can create laws or policies that maintain and enforce equality and dismantle systems that adhere to racism, classism, and other social identity exclusions to establish a more egalitarian and equitable society. Moreover, the goal of CRT is not to demonize white people as a group or to blame an individual white person today for the consequences of our institutions. However, based on our history, we cannot deny or ignore the impact of slavery, Jim Crow, and other laws that were created and maintained by white men. Likewise, these laws and policies were instituted to reinforce white supremacy and deny nonwhites equal protections under the law and due process, equal access to resources, and equal participation in our society. Again, CRT studies the role social identity plays in creating, maintaining and enforcing laws and  policies. It also informs us on how institutions normalize racism (or classism) to distribute resources or apply laws within our society.  Although current white people as individuals may not be directly responsible for the systemic social inequalities/inequities that exist, indirectly the institutionalization of race, age, gender and other social identities, without investigating the role of identity creates and maintains the caste category created by our white forefathers to see non-white people as inferior groups (compared with their own) and thus sanction second-class citizenry and unequal treatment within our institutions.

Unclelkt. Used under CC0

Helping hands.: Source: Unclelkt. Used under CC0

The Institution of Coaching through the CRT Lens

Coaching as a field is an institution. It has policies (coaching standards and ethics). There are frameworks or theories that govern our understanding and application of coaching in different  areas and other fields. The institution of coaching has a culture, language and approach that members in the field are strongly encouraged to follow. Moreover, the institution of coaching is maintained by people. As such, coach training, coaching services, and coaching organizations are influenced by the same concerns as other organizations when it comes to diversity, equity, and inclusion. Meaning,  albeit you and I may be credentialed, experienced coaches, we are subject to our institutional and cultural programming, as well as lived experiences. We all are exposed to our social institutions, concepts, ideologies, and dogma. This includes our education system, religion/faith-based beliefs, and upbringing. Therefore, we can surmise that our implicit biases are a product of our social identity, which has shaped our mindset. In turn, our mindset influences our behavior, thoughts, and feelings/emotions. Meaning, our worldview and how we engage people are shaped by our institutional exposure. Coaching is part of our social dynamic. Furthermore, both experiencing racism AND not experiencing racism can be equally true depending on your lived experience.

When we partner with a coachee in a coaching session, we bring our whole being, past experiences, as well as biases (Bandura, 1969; Bandura, 1977; Cherry, 2017). Likewise, our client is doing the same. We don't leave our culture or institutional experiences outside of the session. While we are taught in our coach training to suspend our judgments and assumptions, it takes continual practice and awareness to remain a curious observer while being non-attached or nonjudgmental. We must remember that our biases tend to be automatic responses, which are learned, and are institutionalized by our dominant social system. Furthermore, in coaching as an institution, CRT can serve to inform us of how social identity influences goal attainment, motivation, resilience and our worldview based on how we are treated as individuals or group membership, or on how we identify. How we construct coaching standards and ethics, or how coaching is applied, is influenced by the institutions that teach us.  

Within the institution of coaching, those who founded our current paradigms set the standards. If we examine the makeup of who dominates within the coaching institution we will find that the majority of leaders, coaches, and policy makers are white.  As such, Eurocentrism is normalized into the institution. So, what happens when a coachee does not fit into this paradigm? In my view, the coachee becomes socially inhibited--even at the unconscious level, and their lived experiences can be suppressed by the coach and the coaching approach. Take for example a case study presented in my coaching group. A coachee, who works in a male-dominated industry, had shared that she felt she was discriminated against at work because of her gender. The coach (credentialed and experienced) asked "what else could it be" other than discrimination? Likewise, in a personal coaching experience, I had a Black coach state to me "maybe it's you or how you see things' ' when I shared I felt I may not be taken as seriously as my white male counterparts on a high-visibility project. In both cases, there was no empathy or holding space for the coachee's experience. The questions and statements in these two cases implied that the coachee's perception of the experience may be self-imposed, false or unreal. CRT can be used to examine how race plays a role in the way we view our clients, ask questions, and how coaching organizations create and enforce coaching ethics, policies or standards.

Another CRT critique in coaching is that some institutions adhere to strict rules about how to apply coaching techniques without considering the impact the approach has on one's social identity. Meaning, if you are a coach then you should only ask questions and share observations in context to the client's responses to your question. We are discouraged from sharing deeper insight from the perspective of storytelling, advice giving, lived experiences, or points of view, for example. While we are prohibited from giving advice and non-coaching approaches, there are some situations where the coachee needs guidance to understand how behavior works under specific conditions. When working with diverse coachees it is very important to hold space for storytelling to sensitively leverage lived experiences as a tool to empower our coachee. Meaning, guidance, mentoring, or advice may not be coaching, but these tools are part of the coaching process and can better help diverse coachees if implemented with coaching. As such, the goal of CRT in coaching is to serve as a tool to critique the coaching institution. The outcome, then, is to ensure we are adhering to the below ICF ethical criteria, and to view the institution of coaching through the lens of race and/or social identity:

Code of Ethics, Part 4 (ICF, 2021):

Section I.11: Am aware of and actively manage any power or status difference between the Client and me that may be caused by cultural, relational, psychological, or contextual issues. 

Section II.23: Hold responsibility for being aware of and setting clear, appropriate, and culturally sensitive boundaries that govern interactions, physical or otherwise. 

Section IV.25: Avoid discrimination by maintaining fairness and equality in all activities and operations, while respecting local rules and cultural practices. This includes, but is not limited to, discrimination based on age, race, gender expression, ethnicity, sexual orientation, religion, national origin, disability, or military status.  

In conclusion, CRT is a tool of study. It allows us to examine our institutions, including coaching, under the social construct of race and identity. It questions if our policies, laws, and institutions are fair to all members who participate in it or who are exposed to it. CRT allows us to identify how we measure, gaze, and respond to otherness in comparison to ourselves and our social order. CRT can magnify the gaps for which our biases and understanding of other people are construed or skewed.  For coaching, we can use CRT as a means to ensure we honor DEI and check or weigh our cultural intelligence to see where our cultural or social identity sensitivity may be lacking within the institution of coaching.

Resources / References

Alto Arizona. (n.d.). A History of Racist U.S. Laws. Retrieved from 

Bandura, A. (1969). Principles of behavior modification. Holt, Rinehart &Winston: New York, NY.

Bandura, A. (1977). Social learning theory. Prentice-Hall: Englewood Cliffs, NJ.

Cherry, K. (2017). What is social learning theory? A closer look at how people learn through observation. Retrieved from

George, J., (2021).  A Lesson on Critical Race Theory. Retrieved from

International Coaching Federation. (2021). ICF Code of Ethics. Retrieved from

Munger, F. W., & Seron, C. (2017). Race, Law, and Inequality, 50 Years After the Civil Rights Era. Annual Review of Law and Social Science, 13(1), 331-350. Retrieved from


  • 07 Jul 2021 3:46 PM | Alicia Daugherty
    Thank you for sharing this, Dawn! Such helpful insight on an important issue!
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  • 10 Aug 2021 7:58 PM | Linda Marshall (Administrator)
    Thanks for sharing. It was informative as it distilled the topic and connected it to our world of coaching.
    Link  •  Reply

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