DEIB in Coaching 3) Include Identity & Culture in Your Onboarding Process | Abena Baiden & Emma-Louise

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Diversity is a fact. Equity is a choice. Inclusion is an action. Belonging is an outcome. Arthur Chan, Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Strategist

We're excited you're here!

If you’re reading this, you’re most likely looking for ideas or wondering how coaching can be more inclusive. There will undoubtedly be some who find this topic Diversity, Equity, Inclusion and Belonging (DEIB) intimidating or uncomfortable, but the more we normalise it, and approach it with empathy, the easier it will become. Whether you agree or disagree with the points made in this article, it is our hope that reading it promotes awareness and, of course, action!

This article is part of a series where we've suggested 7 Ways You Can Increase (Your) Cultural Awareness in Your Coaching Practice. Here we explore Step 3) Your Client Onboarding Process.

But if you haven't already done so, we recommend you read DEIB in Coaching 1) Identity Mapping Exercises: The Identity Iceberg (Free .PDF Tool) and complete your identity map before reading on. Why? So that you can join us on this thinking journey and really embrace the 'why' behind what comes next.

What's in this Article

In this article we explore:

  1. Why onboarding is important

  2. Create a meaningful start to your coaching relationship

  3. The onboarding process is also an opportunity for you to learn

  4. Consider using the Identity Map as a tool in your onboarding process

  5. Here are 5 areas of your onboarding process to review

  6. Wrap-up & Where next?

Why onboarding is important

When we onboard a new client, we have the opportunity to set up our professional relationship—and also establish a space of inclusivity and understanding.

So when we intentionally bring culture and identity into the discussion, we open a two-way process that builds trust and invites growth:

  • Clients who are different to us feel more seen and valued.
  • And for clients who are “like” us, we raise their cultural competency and become a force for positive change in the world.

Create a meaningful start to your coaching relationship

There are many areas of identity and culture we can consider—and these can be both visible and invisible. Some examples include aspects of our identity that relate to culture, gender, sexual orientation, religiosity or even Hofstede's Cultural Dimensions.

The idea is not to force an awkward conversation, but to create an environment where a client feels comfortable volunteering aspects of themselves that feel important to who they are.

And these aspects, when shared, may even open up new opportunities as the client works to make change in their life—or chooses their next action step.

Having both you and your client be aware of the invisible dimensions of identity allows for a more meaningful starting point in your relationship.

Remember: the onboarding process is also an opportunity for you to learn

Most coaches love people and are curious by nature. So first, remember that this should be fun!

Because as you onboard your client, this is also an opportunity for you to become more aware of your own assumptions.

  • What do you think you know about the culture and background of your client?
  • What is this based on?
  • Are you ready and open to have your preconceived ideas shifted?
  • Are you interested and excited to expand your ideas of identity and culture?

Grow as a coach and build your empathy

Doing this work also allows you to consider your own identity in relation to your client. And this will help you identify points of empathy and connection, along with any self-education you might need to undertake in order to better serve your clients.

In this way you’re not only providing the best coaching experience you can, but also addressing your own personal and professional development.

Consider using the Identity Map as a tool in your onboarding process

Your identity map is a valuable tool to understand yourself. But as well as creating your own identity map, consider offering your client the opportunity to go through this process too.

Then, these visual representations of identity can act as a reference point for both of you to better understand factors that might impact your interactions.

And remember that, just as your client shares only what they feel comfortable with, you also get to decide what you want to share.

Here are 5 areas of your onboarding process to review

The essence of these questions is not about pressuring you or your clients to share, but instead creating space for discussion.

  1. Do you allow time for people to tell their story and share their background?
  2. Do you have a specific question that invites your client to share what's important to them about their identity and culture?
    • For example, you could ask something like: "Is there anything about your identity that you would like me to know?"
    • And remember that the client gets to decide what (if anything) they share.
  3. Does your onboarding process invite (but not compel) clients to share the aspects of their identities they value most—or are most impactful across different areas of their lives?
  4. Is your own background and story available for potential clients on your website?
  5. Review the questions on your intake form. What impression do these questions give? Do you have a "prefer not to say" option?

Finally, while remembering we're all unique and people cannot be put into a box, this is a fun tool to play around with when you have a new client, friend or colleague:


We hope you've enjoyed this thought-provoking article.

And remember that looking at your onboarding process through a DEIB lens doesn’t mean you have to change everything—it's simply about being aware. And then using that awareness to make sure our choices are intentional.

Enjoy getting to see the world from different perspectives and playing with the possibilities!

And remember that conversations about identity and culture don't end after the onboarding process: Will you intentionally leave space for clients to bring their culture and identity into your conversations?

And now it's over to you!

So, what do you think? What did you learn from this article? And importantly, what will you do differently?

Remember that if you decide to start 'diversity' conversations with fellow coaches in person or in online spaces, you are contributing to greater awareness and a more inclusive coaching industry.

Now watch for the next in this series of 7 articles that looks specifically at what each of us can do in our coaching businesses to embrace diversity, equity and inclusion and minimize our own blind spots.

Where Next?

Lastly, whilst you won't see a disclosure in every article on our blog, we think it's important to do so when covering this DEIB topic:

DISCLOSURE: This article has been written from the perspective of a female who is (largely) heteronormative and of White European descent and another atypical female who is of Ghanaian, Irish, and British descent. We acknowledge that even with both our perspectives and best intentions, we may (like everyone) have blind spots and are open to discussion about these.

So what do you think? Tell us what we missed or what else should be on these lists! What did you take away from this article? Share your thoughts in the comments below!

Author Bios

Emma-Louise Elsey HeadshotContributing author:

Emma-Louise Elsey has been coaching since 2003. She's the founder of both The Coaching Tools and her latest venture, Fierce Kindness where she shares personal tips, tools and ideas to transform ourselves—and our world! Originally a project/relationship manager for Fortune 500 companies she's combined her passion for coaching, creativity and love of systems to create 100+ brandable coaching exercises including 30 completely free coaching tools. She serves coaches through her newsletter for coaches and loves to offer ideas for your coaching toolbox!

Learn more about Emma-Louise & see all their articles here >>

Contributing Author:

Abena Baiden (she/hers) GMBPsS is the ACC- and ICF-trained founder of Positively Flourishing. Abena runs adult and teen coaching programs to promote wellbeing and personal development with her practice firmly rooted in the values of Diversity, Equity, Inclusion, and Belonging. If not in the classroom or coaching space, you'll find Abena studying for her doctorate (which focuses on coaching in education) or exploring the world from her latest base as an international educator and coach. Lift the lid a little more here

Learn more about Abena & see all their articles here >>

Image of Happy female coach of colour with long brown hair holding laptop against brown background by Friends Stock via Shutterstock

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