RealTalk@City Webinar: White Leadership and Allyship – Performative Vs Co-Conspirator – Lessons Learnt

By Tom Glynn (Senior EDI Officer (Charters and Data)) with Q&A contributions by Ruth Windscheffel (Panel speaker, Senior Lecturer Education Development, Deputy Director of the RISES Programme and Co-Chair of the Student subgroup on the Race Equality Charter Self-Assessment Team)



In November 2021, City’s EDI team launched its first educational webinar – ‘RealTalk@City’, an open and informative discussion space which takes an intersectional and race-lens led, pragmatic and authentic look at life at City, platforming and alleviating City’s staff and their voices to lead on and engage in brave space discussions.

Our first webinar focussed on the role that White staff must play as co-conspirators of change in order to progress anti-racist inclusion, equity and diversity work at City. This included discussing and understanding the importance of self-education, recognising, and combatting barriers and making meaningful change as a co-conspirator with and for minoritised and  racialised groups while ensuring agency is not taken away and their voice is centred, with labour being shared appropriately.

Attendees were given an overview of key concepts in allyship and White privilege before the floor was open to a panel session with staff in different roles across City.

The webinar first reflected on White privilege, providing examples from ‘White Privilege: Unpacking the Invisible Knapsack’ by Peggy McIntosh such as:

  • I can if I wish arrange to be in the company of people of my race most of the time
  • I can be sure that my children will be given curricular materials that testify to the existence of their race
  • If my day, week, or year is going badly, I need not ask of each negative episode or situation whether it has racial overtones

Reflect on these above statements for a minute and consider the own privileges you may have in life, and how you utilise them to create equity, correct for power imbalances, and pivot to create positive impact in your social, personal and work spaces.


Performative allyship vs Co-conspirator:

Our attendees were asked to think about what it means to be a co-conspirator – to truly find ways to uplift and empower others, knowing when to step up and when to step back. Sabah Holmes outlined key differences between performative allies vs co-conspirators that can be seen in the full webinar. For example, a performative ally is all talk and no action, not risking challenging our leaders or peers. A co-conspirator is all action and will speak to interrupt exclusion, creating equity even at a professional and personal cost to self.

It is important to understand this difference to actually see change happen at City.  The journey to being a co-conspirator will differ for all, but to me it can be broadly understood as doing the following three things. Firstly, recognizing the lack of social justice in the past. Secondly, wanting to work to overcome this injustice and the barriers they have raised, even when the introspection and conversations involved become uncomfortable. Thirdly, working towards making the field more equitable. Working with marginalized communities, asking them how they want to be involved and raising their voices, knowing when that means to take a backseat yourself.

Q&A Panel:

You can access the full Q&A with our Panel at the link at the top of this article. Panel member Ruth Windscheffel (Senior Lecturer Education Development, Deputy Director of the RISES Programme, Co-Chair of the Student subgroup on the Race Equality Charter Self-Assessment Team) has further explored some of the questions raised below that we would like to leave with you as some final thoughts.


What does being an ally mean to you?

  • It means being willing to give my time to listen, to support and actively champion colleagues especially in those areas where I know I have the power to change stuff. It does mean doing some things under the radar and not looking for kudos because of it.


I want students of colour in my school /at City to know that I am an ally. Do I announce I’m on their side? How can I be an ally to these students?

  1. Personalise their learning experience. And by this I mean not just saying you’re doing ‘personalising learning’; it means taking actions such as learning and using names (checking up pronunciations beforehand), ensuring that there is variety and diversity in class materials (case studies, reading lists) and assessment, deploying a dialogic, partnership-based model of active learning, (and explaining why you take these approaches). My ideas on this are based a lot on Paolo Freire’s approach to education (a theorist I admire). He argued this partnership relationship between teachers and learners is absolutely crucial in demolishing inequalities because it is based on the co-creation of knowledge and dialogue, and because it is by nature humane.
  2. Make time to listen and answer questions – after class, supporting proactively as personal tutor / module tutor on course and beyond.(e.g. writing references)…
  3. Do right by your students – respond promptly to feedback, act on evidence of inequity, and champion students who are being disadvantaged. A former tutor of mine said something that I’ve always remembered: always ask yourself, in any given situation, who is being disadvantaged by what you are doing, what you involved in (in terms of structures/processes), what you are observing and act accordingly.


How can I be an ally in the workplace? Is there a way I can signal to my Black co-workers that I am an ally?

  1. Make time – to listen, to engage, offer advice (if and when requested and I’d advise a coaching approach even then), to champion others of talent and vision.
  2. Work out where and how you have power to change things and start by making as much difference as you can in those areas. This process should be reflexive (identifying where the inequalities / problems are in the systems we have, and recognising how are we part of that) and involve us in praxis (action based on our critical reflections).
  3. It is not a failure to start small. So, if you are the chair of a committee, you have the power to make sure everyone can speak; you have the ear and the trust of a senior leader, you can champion a colleague who has great ideas but gets overlooked; if you manage a programme or a section, you can argue for an event or a training innovation that will work towards greater equity.
  4. When I was doing some work on one of my academic practice modules recently I came across a really good observation about how to do supporting work in HE – our knowledge and skills will equip us to do the (frequently difficult) work of supporting others (students and co-workers), but it is our core values that will enable us to do it again and again.


How can I get more involved and educated within City?

  1. Engage actively. First and foremost, make sure you are actively engaged in your current roles (show up to meetings, read reports, observe and include people who are being marginalised in discussions). (I like Brooke Cartus’s recommendation to allies/accomplices: engage, ask questions and observe.) I’m also mindful of what Freire said about starting in the ‘here and now’ of things.
  2. Follow up on some of the further reading/viewing the EDI team have put together and use the library.
  3. Attend development sessions like the EDI webinars, Diversity your mind group, etc. and then consider sponsoring your own.
  4. Listen to colleagues – given them your time and reflect yourself afterwards on what you can do practically to influence and change things within your remit.
  5. Join relevant staff networks.



As a White staff member, do you have any advice on how I can accept criticism more thoughtfully?

Accepting, reflecting and acting on feedback of any kind at all is a very emotional process and this is especially so when it is critical feedback. Colleagues I teach and support on the MAAP are really struck by this when they become students again – often after many years of teaching in their field. So, like it or not, you are going to feel strong emotion when you receive criticism (as well as when you get praise). If you are prepared for this to happen (the adrenaline, the heart pumping…), you give yourself the chance of not being shocked and not reacting defensively. Acknowledge the feedback as calmly as you can – make clear that it’s been heard. Ask if there are any actions the other person wants you to take immediately – it might be they want an apology. Then you should take some time to think, reflect and calm down in order to do those things objectively. Follow up (promptly but later) with a meeting where you can discuss the feedback, outline any longer-term actions that need to be taken, and then move forward.


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *