…and how it creates safer practices for all
Article written by Kitty Kistler
The term “safe space” isn’t new. In fact, safe spaces began in the 1960s during the women’s movement and continue to gain traction 60 years later. But, like most things, such space warrants a two sided argument to why they’re still needed and if they cause more harm than good.
Siding on the idea of a necessary space that provides common ground, these spaces were -and still are- never intended to make others feel left out, but instead provide a place where people are not subject to bias, discrimination, and criticism from the outside world.
Offering someone protection inside of a safety net might feel like the logical solution to helping others thrive in the world, but the conversation comes with debate. One, not of diversity and inclusion, but of tolerance and intolerance.
Intolerance demands comfort, understanding, and conformity, which makes the uncompromising more critical inside spaces where lack of prejudice is not only necessary, but sometimes a matter of life or death.
Tolerance, on the other hand, demands the discomfort of awareness while often lacking the need for formal understanding and conformity. Tolerance accepts and honors differences and allows exclusive boundaries to protect the person and honor the progress.
As much as you want to believe the world has changed, progress has occurred, and equality is the new norm, the reality is the tremendous amount of work left to do, especially in a progressive and rapidly growing industry such as personal development and wellness.
From the outside looking in, the coaching industry might appear to relate only to a certain level of readiness, discipline, and self indulgence–leaving behind a mysterious sense of elitism that only the wealthy and truly motivated are privy to.
By not showcasing the industry’s diversity, a huge gap remains in the mission to serve all, because not everyone sees a familiar representation of who they are.
To confront this issue head on, the International Coaching Federation (ICF) released a statement of inclusion and diversity asking it to be at the forefront of the mission.
“Our mission is to lead the global advancement of coaching. To do this, we must reflect on our blind spots and be aware of opportunities for improvement.” – ICF
However, as a self regulating industry with no one authority over its mission, it seems blind spots still exist and a lot of misinformed mainstreamers are left to believe coaching is a luxury not often afforded to those in “ordinary” lifestyles.
Diversity within the industry does exist, but you have to invest the time and patience to find the space that you identify with–as both a client and a colleague. The exhaustion of seeking support but not knowing how or where to find it, actually provides a higher likelihood that someone won’t find the safe space they need–or worse, they won’t ask for help because of the possible rejection of not fitting in.
As the world shifts and ‘coaching’ becomes a household word, a lunch and learn workplace opportunity, a conversation in schools, and (yes, of course) an internet buzzword, the need for accessible and visible inclusion remains high on the list of righting wrongs.
It might seem easy to cross inclusion off the to-do list when you’re supporting an audience of ten to 100 members, but how does a coach grow their business AND show inclusivity AND provide a safe space when they’re just one person or a very small team?
This is where waters get muddy, nuance is critical, and self awareness is vital to maintaining your position and authority in your market.
The purpose of a safe space, or being a ‘safe harbor’ coach, is to allow members to feel comfortable enough to ask for support around their own needs, but also understand that the advocacy inside of the group must be heard outside of the space to actually invoke the change.
Safe spaces offer the necessary protection of one’s identity, while also allowing a collective need for progressive tolerance and inclusion to become more recognized within society.
The best way to become a lighthouse and beacon of safety is to lead by example.
- Know your audience and be exclusive for them–provide them a safe space that is private and non judgemental, be willing to exclude those who would feel unsafe/harmful or have opposition to the culture you’re creating.
- Stay curious and allow open dialogue–especially difficult ones, but know when to step in and offer insights, moderation, and critical thinking to promote further tolerance and the group member’s growth as well.
- Practice inclusivity and tolerance in your daily life–weave it into your values, content, programming, and service offers, and make others feel safe and acknowledged even when they know they aren’t your target audience.
So, what makes putting this into practice so hard?
Social influence has programmed the belief that inclusivity means inclusion for all, without exception.
However, being a safe harbor must also include exclusion for the safety of its members. Without this exclusion, members will feel threatened, they’ll be less likely to share, seek, and advocate for themselves, and the group is more vulnerable to intolerant thoughts and actions.
The coaching industry must work together and adopt the ideology of being all-human embracing to remove the harmful narratives that have created so much bias.
Maintaining exclusive safe space does not mean you don’t love, honor, and respect all others, but it does mean you recognize, see, and validate someone who might not know where they belong. Coaches must choose to be leaders who understand that everyone has a story and a wound that needs to be healed, but they’re also worthy of living a life of liberated happiness.
When you practice inclusivity, exclusion becomes less about elitism and more about the humanness of providing someone with the community support they need.