Using the ASCEND Model for Professional Support


Written by Nathan Hall |


Culture Check was born out of the need to support racialized professionals in their careers. Whether we are looking at employment rates, pay equity, rates of promotions or experiences of discrimination and microaggressions, Black, Indigenous and other professionals of colour experience their work environments differently than their White counterparts.

These are multifaceted issues that do not have silver bullet solutions. They require intentional effort at all levels of the organization, affecting policies, cultural norms, practices and more. Yes, institutional change takes time. However, for those who have been excluded, marginalized and/or others, waiting on the promises of change while continuing to experience injustice is a tough sell.

That is why we focus on two key points: supporting institutional change that looks at the bigger picture and that will lay the foundation for organizations moving forward; and supporting the individual professionals who are impacted by these current systems today, equipping them with the tools to navigate the present, and advocating for a better future.

Ting Zhang and Leslie A. Perlow, professors at Harvard Business School, have identified six primary areas of professional support to create the ASCEND Model. ASCEND is an acronym for: Advocacy, Social Support, Career Advice, Expertise, Network, Development Feedback.

We leverage these six areas of support in the development of our services and programs.


This is the public support and protection of an individual or a group, providing a voice in places where those voices might not be heard. Think of advocacy like a commercial; it’s building awareness and familiarity and it’s telling the story to help keep these groups' issues, concerns and values top of mind.

We advocate for racialized communities through our data collection, research, insights, corporate training, coaching and keynote presentations. Our objective is to bringing to light the true experiences of these communities that often go unheard in professional contexts.

Social Support

This type of support happens more privately—in the form of personal connection—allowing the individual to be heard and seen, validating their experiences and giving them a sense of belonging. An individual's overall well-being is intimately tied to their professional well-being, job satisfaction and engagement.

We provide social support through our Culture Check-Ins, our Slack group and Issue Reporting, fostering community and connection. It is not unusual for those we connect with to be “the only one” or “one of a few” that look like them within their company or department. This can feel isolating, which often leads to a person individualizing their struggles. Creating these connections helps people realize they are not alone, which gives them perspective and practical advice from people who have been through similar situations.

Career Advice

Great career advice exists and there is a lot of it, but it is rarely centred around a racialized experience, particularly one that considers various internal and external barriers that reflect the lived experiences of these communities. Career advice that is disconnected from this context will always fall short.

This is why we offer Career Coaching to help individuals harness their strengths and uniqueness in the marketplace, while also reducing the harm of being “diverse” in these settings.


Expertise is about empowering people with language, data, knowledge and tips and tools in addressing the real-life challenges they face. Professional development requires us to grow in our expertise, giving us the confidence to navigate our circumstances.

We are continually building out our Tools and Resources to address an array of common issues faced by Professionals of Colour; they are curated or developed by our network of subject matter experts. For more targeted support, our Coaching, Training and Keynotes provide direct channels for learning. We also launched Culture Chats, a speaker series that is uniquely crafted to support racialized professionals in their career development.


Strong networks are essential for our social support, but they are a significant factor in building our professional success as well. All opportunities are connected to people, so the more connections we have, the more opportunities will present themselves. In fact, 70 to 85 per cent of open jobs are filled through networking and relationships (see here or here), but Professionals of Colour are less likely to have access to those connections.

We help build these network connections through our Culture Check-Ins and Slack group, as well as our network of professionals across industries who offer support and expertise in things like mental health, contract negotiations and resume building. We do not do job recruitment in an official capacity, but we are always sharing jobs and making introductions to opportunities.

Developmental Feedback

Having an objective third party to accurately reflect back on what is and is not working is crucial for all of our success and development. The accountability encourages growth, self reflection and commitment to progress.

Through our Career Coaching, we provide that development feedback in a one-on-one environment. Our Culture Check-Ins, meanwhile, offer community-based feedback from diverse perspectives.

Moving Forward

We continue to push for systemic and institutional change, but it is important to realize that racialized professionals still need support today. We will continue to expand our resources—by establishing new ones or enhancing those already in our midst—to support these communities and work towards our vision of workplaces that work for everyone.

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