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Working with Diverse Clients

June 16, 2022 by Lauren Gombas

Everyone wants to be in a world where they feel safe and like they belong. Coaches are a vehicle for this, and have the privilege of receiving a client's vulnerability as the client creates a space for themselves to feel safe and included. This means coaches must be worthy of trust. Understanding what diversity, equity, and inclusion means is a step toward ensuring clients feel heard and safe expressing their vulnerability. 


Regardless of the coaching niche, coaches will work with clients from diverse backgrounds, which includes differences in:

  • Culture
  • Economic standing
  • Race
  • Ethnicity
  • Ability
  • Age
  • Beliefs 
  • Sexual Identity

Working with Diverse Clients

The goal of coaching is to help the client become the best version of themselves. This starts with the coach’s ability to both acknowledge and respect client differences. This enables the coach to foster empathy in their sessions and allows them to lean on their clients as experts in their own lives. 


Equity recognizes that some might need additional support for everyone to have equal opportunity. For example, it is more challenging for someone to succeed in coaching when they can only afford two sessions. Likewise, health and wellness clients will have more trouble managing their health if they don't have access to healthy food. 

While coaching can’t fix all of these problems, it’s important for coaches to be aware of the potential roadblocks and obstacles a client might face on their journey to achieve their goals. Understanding that some clients may need additional support, such as scholarships or a more tailored approach, can enable clients to be more successful over time. Considering these things crafting your coaching business is an opportunity create a genuinely safe and comfortable space for diverse clients where they can feel eager to express themselves.


Inclusion means providing space for people who face exclusion. An example of inclusion in coaching might be selecting coaches who are different from oneself as a partner for a workshop, such as partnering with a coach of a different racial or cultural background than yourself, or offering coaching services in underserved communities to uplift them. Inclusion can also mean small things, like offering closed captions during Zoom sessions or ensuring that your mouth is never obstructed or covered when working with clients with hearing loss. 

How Unconscious Bias Can Harm Clients

Unconscious bias, implicit bias, or the stereotyping or categorization of individuals different from oneself often begins in childhood. These stereotypes or categorizations come from learned unconscious beliefs, assumptions, or attitudes about how people who are different from us should or shouldn't behave. Not only dangerous, an unconscious bias towards a client can be damaging. The example below highlights the dangers of unconscious bias in a coaching session. 

Coaching Case Study

Diego, a student in his seventies, approaches Susie, an academic life coach, for help with test-taking. Susie assumes that he will struggle with technology because of his age, so she proposes that they practice taking tests online. However, Diego is familiar enough with computers to get by and has family members to help him when he has questions. He voices this to Susie, who still feels that their efforts are best spent with online test taking. After a few sessions of Susie ignoring Diego’s concerns about time spent learning how to use a computer, Diego grows uncomfortable and frustrated, which results in him leaving Susie’s coaching program.

Tips for Susie

In the example above, Susie stereotyped Diego based on his age and repeatedly ignored his requests to move onto a different topic. Stereotyping and preventing clients from articulating their needs can lead to unproductive sessions, a damaged coaching relationship, and at worst, can lead clients in a harmful direction.

So what could Susie have done differently? 

  • Self-reflection is a key component of being an effective coach. Understanding any bias that you may hold toward any group or individual is crucial to your ability to help clients succeed. Just about everyone has some form of bias. It’s about how you manage and work on eliminating the bias that makes you a stronger coach. Luckily, there are tons or resources available to help people identify and manage implicit bias, including Project Implicit and diversity training courses.
  • The knowledge of your bias is also important for establishing a safe coaching relationship. Bias can appear in ways you may not recognize, but your client  will. While self-reflection is a great start, it’s possible for bias to slip through the cracks. When this happens, it’s important to listen to your client’s concerns with open ears and an open mind. 

The Importance of Diversity and Inclusion Training

Like Susie, it's easy to assume that one knows what's best for their client, especially if they are working in a specialized niche. Having an open mind often isn’t enough when it comes to inclusion. We need to lean into the discomfort of knowing that every person has unconscious bias. In bringing awareness to our blind spots, diversity and inclusion training can help us cultivate strategies for facing our bias head-on and working on ways to eliminate it when working with our clients. 

Self-reflection, self-awareness, and self-regulation are crucial to our ability to be effective coaches for those we serve. Without knowing what lurks beneath the surface of our biased minds, we can’t truly know if we are serving our clients to the best of our ability. Through diversity and inclusion training, you’ll be encouraged to recognize your bias, challenge its existence, and develop ways to eliminate its influence and minimize its harm. 

What to Look For

A good diversity and inclusion coach training course or diversity coach certification will include the following:

  • Cultural competency that covers inclusion culture
  • Discussion on equity, diversity, and inclusion in coaching
  • Information on implicit biases and how they are harmful 
  • Input from diversity leaders
  • Practice on how to implement the training
  • Alignment with ICF's values on diversity and inclusion in coach education

Coach Training EDU offers an Inclusion Coach Training Course that covers essential and foundational coaching skills while cultivating a healthy approach to diversity, equity, and inclusion. In addition, by encouraging the practice of self-leadership, social justice, and inclusive practice in our course, we discuss how our coaches will create a sense of belonging for their client. You can learn more about our inclusion and diversity course offering here. 

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