When I first started my business, I was a single mom on food stamps, depending on my coaching income to support myself and my five-year-old. I remember listening to business coaching podcasts in which these successful, child-free coaches would talk about how they built their businesses in six months by networking every night. 

Granted, I’m one of those strange people who loves networking. I get the same thrill from entering a room full of strangers and striking up random conversations that some people might get from bungee-jumping. But as a single mom, it was nearly impossible for me to leave my kiddo at home at night to go networking. 

I remember feeling a mixture of shame and resentment as I listened to the podcasts and compared myself to other coaches who had the privilege to network so often and quickly build their businesses.

At the same time, I knew how much privilege I had. I was able to borrow money from my family to pay for training. Without this financial support, it would have been nearly impossible for me to start my own business or be as successful as I’ve been since.

Now, seven and a half years into my full-time coaching practice, I’m working hard on the second draft of my book about how to decide what’s next in our careers. As I write, I am well aware that my book only addresses one slice of the entire pie of reasons why career change is often difficult. 

To give you a picture of how privilege and inequity impact career change, I want to invite you to imagine that you’re on a “privilege walk.”

Privilege walks are often conducted on college campuses and other settings to create a visual image and visceral sense of the privileges and inequities participants have experienced. In the walk, participants start by lining up next to each other, shoulder to shoulder. Then, the facilitator makes statements related to privilege, and participants take a step backward or forward, depending on the facilitator’s instructions. “If English is your first language, take a step forward,” “If you have visible or invisible disabilities, take one step backward,” and “If you or your family ever inherited money or property, take one step forward.” The list goes on. Participants take a step forward or back in response to many elements listed, ultimately demonstrating equity gaps between them.

Privilege walks offer a poignant depiction of the equity gaps that many people face when considering what’s next in their careers.

Many intersecting factors play a role in how much privilege you have (skin color, sex, gender, sexual orientation, education level, health and ability, citizenship status, relationship status, family dynamics, and so on). Each of these factors plays some role in how easy or hard it is to create work you love. 

For example, if you’re undocumented and can’t access student loans, it will be far more challenging to fund the education you’d need to become a therapist. If you come from a poor family, you don’t have the same connections to people in power as you would if you came from a wealthier family. If you are a person of color or don’t look like all the other people at the organization you want to work at, you might have a harder time getting hired. If you do get the job, you might have to invest more emotional labor in creating a place for yourself or feeling like you belong. 

If you were always told that you were normal and could accomplish anything, you’ll likely have an easier time reaching your goals than if you were always told there was something wrong with you and that you would amount to nothing.

I don’t share this to make folks with more privilege feel guilty. Our feelings of guilt don’t help anyone (though our action might). 

I share this to acknowledge that if your dreams feel far away and your pace is slower because of systemic barriers or equity gaps, it is not your fault. 

Exacerbating these inequities is the fact that it’s hard to access quality support if you don’t have the money to afford it.

Besides, most of what you read about business-building or career-changing is written by “experts” who come from quite a bit of privilege and often do not see their work through an equity lens. Many coaches do not have a structural, systemic perspective about what’s needed for lasting change and only focus on serving wealthy corporate leaders. Their central message is “just focus on yourself, just love yourself” as if showing up for collective change didn’t matter. They may not have worked on their implicit bias in ways that may be necessary for them to support folks who don’t come from the same backgrounds they do.

Even when support is high quality, coaching can be impossible to access if you don’t have the money to pay for it or the family to borrow the money from. 

So, if you feel like I’m speaking to you, now, what are you supposed to do to traverse the equity gaps you face?

My honest answer is I’m not sure yet, and I’m trying to figure it out.

As much as I wish I could, I have yet to crack the code on how to help folks with less privilege bridge the equity gaps they face and change careers as quickly as people with more privilege. 

I don’t have a panacea that will help you circumnavigate the impacts of capitalism, racism, sexism, homophobia, transphobia, ableism, ageism, or any other system of inequity in your career change. 

However, I am actively working to create offerings that are more accessible to folks who cannot pay for traditional coaching support. And, I’m working to learn more about how to help clients address equity gaps.

One idea that I have is to interview people who successfully navigated through huge structural barriers to create success in their businesses and professional lives, specifically people of color and other folks who don’t fit the heterosexual White male mold. I am not looking to further notions of “model minorities,” but rather to learn from people who probably know something that I do not. I’m also considering compiling stories in an ebook that I would sell to raise funds for POC-led social justice organizations.

Please share your thoughts in the comments section below.

Much love,

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