Peer Equity and Inclusion Coaches Can Help When Identity-Based Trauma Occurs

Global HR

AUSTIN, TEXAS — News of mass shootings, racially charged local violence, and harassment and microaggressions in the workplace fill the airwaves and social media. Identity-based hate is on the rise in the U.S., noted Sara Taylor, president and founder of deepSEE Consulting.

Peer equity and inclusion coaches, who are trained to be culturally competent, can be a resource for employees and act as “safe zones” to talk about identity-based traumatic events, Taylor said. She is co-author of
Filter Shift: How Effective People SEE the World (Morgan James Publishing, 2017), and her Woodbury, Minn.-based company specializes in diversity training.

Peer equity and inclusion coaches are especially needed now with more identity-based crimes
occurring, she noted, pointing to data from the New York City-based Anti-Defamation League.

“They’re more than coaches. They are so vital to an organization—they are more vital than [employee resource groups] to advancing and transforming our organizations, to being more inclusive, equitable and diverse,” Taylor said Monday at
SHRM INCLUSION 2021, where she presented the concurrent session ”You Are Not Alone: Peer Equity and Inclusion Coaches in the Workplace.”

Microaggressions can be traumatic, and their effect is hardly “micro,” she pointed out. A “fight, flight or freeze” response “happens to us today when we experience trauma, whether we’re a part of that incident or live hundreds of miles away and only hear about it from the news. We can still have that same physical response to that incident.”

[SHRM members-only toolkit: Intercultural Competence as a Key Enabler of Organizational Growth and Success]

Who Are These Coaches?

Peer equity and inclusion coaches are co-workers in roles at various levels throughout the organization. They are good listeners, have their peers’ and colleagues’ respect, and champion diversity and inclusion, Taylor explained.

Above all, they are culturally competent and have undergone significant training and development for their role. They are not, she emphasized, psychotherapists, mediators or conflict resolution specialists. And while they might be diversity, equity and inclusion (DE&I) experts, they do not have to be in that role to serve as a peer equity and inclusion coach.

She pointed to the Minnesota Department of Transportation as an example of an organization that successfully utilizes a coaching program. Its comprehensive DE&I strategy includes 18 peer equity and inclusion coaches available to employees anywhere throughout the state.

These coaches were poised to act after the killing of George Floyd Jr., on May 25, 2020, according to Taylor, and available to employees when they were tensed for the verdict of Derek Chauvin, who stood trial for Floyd’s murder. Chauvin was found guilty.

What the Coaches Do

Equity is a key piece of the work these coaches do, according to Taylor.

“Equity acknowledges that we [each] come with very different experiences, advantages and disadvantages. It requires a different intervention and more complex differentiation in how we experience the workplace,” she explained. “Equality assumes everyone is experiencing any given situation the same way with the same resources, opportunities and support.”

Organizations must allocate time for these coaches and make it a part of their job description in aligning, supporting and championing DE&I vision and strategy.

Culturally competent coaches can help leaders better understand equity and inclusion issues by:

  1. Providing cultural competence development.
  2. Serving as a resource to employees after identity-based traumatic events.
  3. Serving as a resource to leaders so they have a sense of what their employees are experiencing.

“Your leadership is going to set the bar as far as its level of [cultural] competency and effectiveness in creating DE&I environments,” Taylor said. “Unless you develop your leadership, you’re not going to be able to develop anyone in your organization.

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