Embracing Diversity: Do You Have to Be One to Help One?

diverseI have had the privilege of working onsite on 6 continents and, through e-teaching from my home office in Canada, engaging with students from all over the world. Over 15 years ago, in a philosophy course in my PhD program, a professor encouraged me to examine whether it was necessary to match counsellors and clients on salient characteristics in order for counselling to be helpful. The issue remains current – the resulting article, “Do you have to be one to help one?,” is something that I continue to refer people to today.

The key challenge with matching, of course, is to prioritize what to match. Clients come to us with many cultural influences and diverse personal characteristics including ethnicity, gender identity, age, socio-economic status, language, abilities, addictions, criminal records, religious beliefs, education, and many more. Although there may be some comfort in working with a counsellor or career development practitioner who speaks your preferred language (literally and figuratively), it’s possible that a different characteristic is more relevant to the presenting issue (e.g., a career coach who understands how to navigate a sector-specific corporate environment or a case manager who has supported hundreds of recent immigrants).

Canadian authors, Dr. Nancy Arthur (University of Calgary) and Dr. Sandra Collins (Athabasca University), recommend a culture-infused approach to career counselling. Their model highlights the following:

  • Culture is relevant in career interventions with all clients, not just those in designated groups
  • Culture is also relevant for all counsellors and career practitioners
  • Views of career and career issues are socially and culturally defined
  • Career theories and models contain cultural assumptions
  • Career goals and interventions need to be collaboratively defined with clients to ensure they are a cultural fit
  • Counsellors and career practitioners may need to go beyond traditional roles to change systems and policies

Several years ago, the Life Strategies team supported SUCCESS to develop a toolkit to support employers in embracing diversity in their workplace. The SEED toolkit contains some timeless tips and strategies that are still relevant today. You can access it at: http://www.embracediversity.ca/  Around the same time, we launched: http://www.diversity.lifestrategies.ca/ Although it’s no longer being updated, you may find some of archived resources useful as you seek to better serve diverse clients. There are also some relevant topical tip sheets:

Career Management Professional Program, Life Strategies also offers a 2-week online course: Understanding Diverse Clients. It’s in the Fall 2017 schedule, beginning October 25, 2017.



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