Today’s blog post is guest written by Sean Kent, Deputy Chief Executive at Freebridge Community Housing. Very active & engaging on Twitter (see @seanmkent) this is his inaugural blog post & it’s a privilege to host it here.
When I first read Sean’s post, it genuinely made me stop & think. It also made me realise that there’s been precious little dialogue in coaching & mentoring circles on this important subject. I hope you enjoy reading this thought provoking post and look forward to the conversations I think it will encourage.
Is there room for sexuality in coaching and mentoring?
During a recent e-conference one of the themes that interested me most was the Diversity theme relating to “Gender and Sexual Preference”. Whilst I didn’t like the later term and thought it a very narrow limiting one to use in place of sexuality, I was interested to see what the combined wisdom of other coaches and mentors had to say on this subject.
You can imagine my disappointment at the end of the first day when all the posts had been about gender and, in particular, the role of women in the workplace. So I tentatively posed the question of what experience people had of coaching and mentoring issues of sexuality. I waited with interest but no one volunteered any experience so I enquired again and someone eventually suggested that maybe issues of sexuality were too “difficult”, and that both the coach and coachee might not feel “safe” having that conversation. Someone else wondered if the reason for this being such a “difficult” issue was due to the invisibility and stereotypes of the Lesbian, Gay and Bisexual community.
I found these comments disappointing as I know from my own experience of being coached how much influence my sexuality as a gay man has on many of the views I hold about a whole range of things. For example, I’ve come to realise that I share very little of myself with my colleagues and that this is influenced by many years of not wanting to share a very important part of myself with anyone, including myself. My coach isn’t gay, but I have felt very comfortable exploring these issues and the impact of my sexuality on them. It has given me some quite incredible insights and been very powerful. I haven’t had any sense that my coach has felt uncomfortable and therefore he has encouraged me to explore a greater level of self-understanding. I’ve benefited immensely from this and others have said that they have seen my self-confidence increase.
I’ve heard it said before that us gays are “obsessed ” with our sexuality. Maybe we are, however I am increasingly aware of how much impact being gay has had on so many areas of my thinking. My coaching has been focused on my personal development but including my sexuality in our conversation has frequently helped me to make sense of issues that we are exploring. I believe that sexuality is about so much more than sexual preferences, it has a huge impact upon our wider self-identity. I’ve often found it helpful to ask the people who are trying to understand sexuality how they would feel to be the only one of their gender in a large group – often they will say that they find this uncomfortable for one reason or another. I can then often disclose that as gay man the words they have used are how I feel when with a group of straight men or women. I know that my sexuality has certainly affected how I view myself as a man and relate to others. The question I would pose in return is whether heterosexuals are so unquestioning of their sexuality that they fail to consider its impact upon their thinking sufficiently.
My other reflection is that whilst coaching is being promoted in many areas for many groups, often but not necessarily from members of those groups, I and the contributors to the e-conference haven’t seen it being promoted specifically for Lesbians, Gays or Bisexuals. So for you coaches, here’s a potential area of growth for your coaching practice and if anyone wants a gay coach, or mentor, well here I am.
Sean, I love the new thinking this post has created for me. In particular, I keep coming back to your (rhetorical?) question…
Are heterosexuals so unquestioning of their sexuality that they fail to consider its impact upon their thinking sufficiently?
I’ve been to many CPD/conference events and participate in a range of Coaching & Mentoring online communities & forums. In my recollection, sexuality has never come up. Even if it has, I suspect it would be about coaching on the topic of sexuality rather than the impact our sexuality has on our thinking.
So in response, from a coaching & mentoring perspective, I strongly suspect that many coaches & mentors fail to consider or reflect upon the impact their sexuality has upon their thinking. I also suspect that training & supervision have failed to explore such aspects unless there’s an “issue” that’s raised. Feels like a major shortcoming and one which I’m now looking forward to exploring in detail in various C&M circles!
Great blog Sean, thanks for sharing a bit of yourself. It really made me think about how unquestioning heterosexual people are about sexuality and how it affects just about everything really. Eleanor (Freebridge)
Thanks Sean for such an interesting and thought provoking blog. I like the development of the conversation away from strict gender issues or indeed preferences in to a broader debate around sexuality in all its forms. There is something for me about how we as coaches approach any client where a part may remain hidden or indeed unacknowledged fully. I know that certain of my clients have felt more comfortable talking about depression due to knowledge of my own battles with mental health but that is only okay up to a point.
I’m still thinking on your point around heterosexuals considering the impact of their own sexuality. I guess that as a majority group they simply haven’t given it much thought. Which is kind of unsurprising and consequently to me, rather sad. I’d be interested to discuss this point with you at more length.
I need to think about this…. and I kind of want a longer conversation about it. It feels like an edgy discussion, for me… but I’ll give it a go….
I am unquestioning about my sexuality on many levels. Perhaps this is because I haven’t faced prejudice or discrimination about being hetrosexual or had to come out or any of those things. I’m a girl who likes boys in a society where that is mostly the case. So it’s not controversial or taboo… It’s not something I think about too much… What I like about this post, Sean, is I’m now wondering about that lack-of-thought.
I’m not sure if this helps or hinders the point, but when I was a 20 something working in HR at the Post Office, I bought myself a smart navy shift dress, with a hemline that sat just above the knee. At work that day I was called sexy, informed by a (more senior) male colleague that he couldn’t concentrate because his mind was “wandering” and asked if I was trying to get promoted. I never wore the dress again.
There is a lot running in these interactions – isolation, sexual politics, power, control, objectification ( and a complete basic lack of respect). How has this experience (and others) affected my assumptions, values, my coaching practice? Am I even talking about sexuality here?
A (guy) friend of mine coaches Women’s Football teams. He says that while he loves the job, the training around working with teenage girls was “a minefield”. The assumption seems to have been that the girls might be predatory toward him ( lots of don’t be alone with them, don’t touch, don’t tell them too much about your personal life especially if you are single). I want to talk to him more about this now… so thank you…
I’m not sure if what I’m writing here adds to the debate or moves it away… but I’m glad this was posted & glad for the opportunities to talk more that it throws up… this is one for a glass of wine & some time, methinks!