leadership retreat | Pembrokeshire, West Wales | 16–19 Mar. 2020

Facing up to race, power and privilege

a #dareconf leadership retreat in Pembrokeshire, West Wales, 16–19 March 2020
16–19 March 2020
View of YHA Pwll Deri from the Pembrokeshire coast path.

Dedicated space to deconstruct the denials that sustain racism

A retreat for leaders who want to challenge oppression based on race, gender, sexuality, class and more, but find themselves implicated in the very systems they oppose. Those of us who benefit from the status quo need to come to terms with the fact that we didn’t achieve our positions through “merit” or hard work. We need to stop using empty gestures of solidarity—checking our privilege, “diversity” schemes, the smokescreen of “unconscious bias”—to obscure our continued complicity in systems of oppression. Our predicament is exemplified by the corporation which invented “Lean In” feminism and reportedly has “more #BlackLivesMatter posters than actual black people” in its offices. We say all the right things, but when it comes to facing up to our own privilege we retreat into denial.

At this 3-day haven from the everyday we’ll critically analyse the ways in which society protects leaders—and white people in particular—from recognising the workings of race, power and privilege. Participants will support each other to move beyond denial by facing up to their own complicity in sustaining oppressive power structures. This will create the conditions for a courageous space in which the group can design practical measures to dismantle oppression in the workplace and beyond.

If you’d like to dedicate time and headspace to deconstructing the ideas that sustain racism and other oppressions, we invite you to join us in West Wales in March at the #dareconf leadership retreat.

Who’ll be there

There’s space for 20 people. We invite anyone who wants to avoid reinforcing systems of privilege and oppression in their work. That includes:

  • leaders and managers from corporations, government and charities
  • HR, sustainability and social impact professionals
  • entrepreneurs, designers and technologists
  • coaches, consultants, trainers and facilitators
  • activists, campaigners and community organisers
people talking at an event
wild horses on the Pembrokeshire coast path
Wild horses on the Pembrokeshire coast path near YHA Pwll Deri.

What’s involved

Everyone participating in this retreat intends to play their part in dismantling systems of oppression. And yet, if intention was enough, it would already be done. The truth is that we don’t have space to think through these issues—let alone to make courageous choices—in our day-to-day lives. The retreat provides distance from the everyday, support to examine uncomfortable truths and the invitation to connect with each other and the natural world.

Guided by an experienced facilitator, together we’ll:

  • deconstruct the oppressive power structures that govern society and the ideas that perpetuate them
  • acknowledge our own complicity in maintaining these structures and the denial that allows us to continue life as usual
  • understand the concept of intersectionality and the specific harms experienced by people who are oppressed in multiple ways
  • identify opportunities to resist oppressive power structures in the workplace and beyond

Location: YHA Pwll Deri Hostel

YHA Pwll Deri Hostel
Dining room

Set on a remote cliff top with spectacular views, YHA Pwll Deri Hostel is the ideal place to get off the grid and reconnect with nature. Six miles from the town of Fishguard, Pwll Deri is on the coast path within the Pembrokeshire Coast National Park. It’s been a Youth Hostel since the fifties and was recently renovated, earning a 4 star rating from Visit Wales.

With no TV, no WiFi and patchy phone signal, set your “out of office” on Monday and leave your laptop at home. (You’ll be back at your desk on Friday to respond to all those emails.)

Accommodation is in comfortable dormitories with sea views. You’ll share a room with people of the same gender. (There are also a few smaller rooms for those attending with a friend.) All rooms have en-suite bathrooms and bedding is included. Bring a towel.

The retreat will be alcohol free to support an atmosphere of inclusion and shared responsibility.

The hostel does not have step-free access. If you have access needs, please contact us to discuss.

We’ll eat family-style in the dining room overlooking the sea. The #dareconf crew will cook all of our food fresh in the hostel’s kitchen using local produce. (We can cater for all diets.)

As well as eating together, you’ll also join in with the cooking. Nothing taxing: scrubbing potatoes or washing up plates doesn’t take long when a group does it together.

The coast path is literally on the doorstep, and we’ll make the most of it. Each day will include a walk with the chance to see wildlife like seals and birds of prey. The routes will suit people with a range of walking experience, including beginners. We’ll send you a kit list ahead of time.

walks on the coast path
The walk to Strumble Head lighthouse.
view of the sea and cliffs from Pwll Deri
View of the sea ten minutes’ walk from Pwll Deri YHA.

what’s included and how to book

To acknowledge the differences in people’s access to money, the retreat has a tiered cost structure based on your gross annual salary (or equivalent income):

Gross annual salary (or equiv. income) Cost of retreat (inc. VAT)
£40k or higher £350
under £40k £150

These costs include:

  • accommodation for three nights
  • all meals from dinner on Monday to packed lunch for the journey home on Thursday
  • return travel via train from major cities in England and Wales or car-share (see details and conditions below)
  • the full retreat programme

Spaces are limited to 20 so we recommend that you book early. You’ll pay a non-refundable deposit of 30% by credit or debit card and we’ll take the balance from your card 60 days before the retreat.

You can cancel your booking more than 60 days before the retreat, although we won’t refund your deposit. After this point you can’t cancel. We don’t allow transfers.

Book your place

Note: our retreat on 7–10 October 2019 has now sold out. However, a space may open in the weeks before the event. If you’re interested, join the waiting list.

How to get there

To use the resources available to us most efficiently—and to reduce our impact on the planet—the cost of the retreat includes a contribution to a travel fund. We aim to pay for most people’s travel using this fund, through a combination of train travel from major cities in England and Wales and car sharing.

If you can get to London Paddington, Manchester Piccadilly, Birmingham New Street, Bristol Parkway or Cardiff Central stations by about noon on Monday, we’ll provide return tickets to Fishguard and Goodwick station and transfer by taxi to Pwll Deri. You’ll be back on Thursday around 6pm. (Timings vary by city.)

Alternatively, if you’re willing to participate in a car-share, either with your own car or as a passenger, you can claim fuel expenses from the fund. (We define a car-share as a car carrying more then one person to and from the retreat.)

We will co-ordinate the details after you book. Feel free to contact us in the meantime if you have questions.

sign pointing to Pwll Deri and view of the sea
Left: signs point to YHA Pwll Deri. Right: Pembrokeshire coast path.

How can a white man lead a retreat about racism?

Jonathan Kahn facilitating

Jonathan Kahn is an experienced facilitator and conference organiser. Below he answers a common question about his role in the #dareconf leadership retreat.

“The perverse thing about our current racial structure is that it has always fallen on the shoulders of those at the bottom to change it. Yet racism is a white problem. It reveals the anxieties, hypocrisies and double standards of whiteness. It is a problem in the psyche of whiteness that white people must take responsibility to solve.” Reni Eddo-Lodge, Why I’m No Longer Talking to White People About Race

I’m a British, white, middle-class, cisgender man. My life has been shaped by racial and class privileges: financial security, elite education and access to well-paid tech jobs. It’s almost as if I’ve won the privilege lottery. (Almost because I’m Jewish, which I’ve written about elsewhere.) So how can I lead a retreat about racism? Won’t my multiple privileges prevent me from understanding the lived realities of oppressed people? What’s to stop this becoming another opportunity for white people to feel good about ourselves while maintaining the very systems we claim to oppose?

I’ve heard various versions of an argument that says that to dismantle racism we need to listen to people of colour. I agree this far. But they go on to say that to act in this field you must either be an oppressed person or become an ally by seeking their guidance. Several white people have warned me that if I want to run an event about racism, it should be led by a person of colour. While this sounds reasonable, a closer inspection reveals a form of concern trolling that obscures white denial.

First, these arguments suggest the racist idea that people of colour have a singular viewpoint, as if we can just ask a monolithic “black community” what to do about racism. I also hear echoes of the racist trope of the “noble savage” in the demand that people of colour are present during discussions about racism. Is their role here to use their magical powers to guide white people towards redemption? It’s as if we can’t do anything about racism without people of colour there to lead, support and absolve us.

Second, insisting that people of colour take the lead puts the burden of dismantling racism onto the very people oppressed by it. But as Reni Eddo-Lodge says, racism is a white problem. If white people won’t address racism without people of colour in the room, we’re both denying that it’s our problem and all but guaranteeing that it won’t change. How can a minority oppressed group be held responsible for leading the privileged majority towards change? Not to mention that people of colour have other things to do with their lives than helping white people to face up to our complicity in racism.

If those of us who benefit from oppressive power structures are serious about dismantling them—instead of posing as antiracists to absolve ourselves of responsibility—we need to use our power to lead change. That means learning from the perspectives of oppressed people without expecting them to take responsibility for what happens next. There are many ways to do this. For example, we can read the large and diverse body of scholarship on race written by people of colour. We can learn from groups like the Movement for Black Lives. And of course we can attend events organised by people of colour.

But when white people warn me against leading events about racism, I sense white solidarity policing. Stay in your lane, they appear to say, or you risk making the situation worse. I’m not saying that I won’t mess things up or that my efforts will necessarily make a positive contribution. But isn’t that the point? Real leadership means taking responsibility for the consequences of my actions, for the messes that I cause alongside any benefits. It means breaking with white solidarity by speaking the truth about the harm caused by white denial. Because that’s what this concern trolling conceals: a denial that racism is a white problem, a denial of the ways in which white people benefit from it, and a denial of our power to resist it.

Feedback from past events

“Jonathan is a remarkable thinker, do-er, collaborator, motivator and teacher. He has an incredibly rare gift in both driving alignment while creating space for innovation. Jonathan has an enviable gift to listen, distill, align and drive a concise path forward. I've also participated in two of Jonathan’s events. He is incredibly committed to ensuring the events are thoughtful, purpose-driven and jam packed with meaningful, tangible insights.”
Jessica Wittebort, Director of Customer Experience, Brilliant Basics (an Infosys company)

“Jonathan is serious about changing the ways we interact with one another. He gives what can feel like immense amounts of time to exploring how body language, tone, silence and well-placed questions, can change the ways we engage with one another for the better. In theory, it can be hard to see the practical value of examining such details, but in practice, the results can be remarkable. We are so used to feeling unseen and unheard – when we have a chance to feel truly listened to, it can be a deeply liberating experience. And this kind of experience, when realised, can open our abilities to organise together.”
Liam Barrington-Bush, activist and author

“We needed a strong and experienced facilitator for our large workshop of 80+ stakeholders in a new financial services industry initiative. There were widely differing interests represented, with strong opinions and divergent agendas. Jonathan quickly grasped our requirements, demonstrated an uncanny knack of identifying the major issues to address, and proved to be an excellent facilitator on the day. We achieved consensus on the critical principles and brought together all involved in a common view of what we should aim to deliver. It was a tough job but he was very capable, kept the flow going, and guided us to a very successful conclusion.”
Miles Cheetham, Head of Propositions, Open Banking

“Jonathan has facilitated some of the best events I’ve been to. His calm, insightful, knowledgeable advice is some of the best I’ve had and I’m really grateful to him for giving me the tools to develop my own abilities further. The events he runs are always fascinating and I've learned a lot about how to run events that are genuinely open and inclusive, and make the space for everyone to be involved. I’ve also always taken away genuinely useful tools to use in my own workplaces.”
Laura Morgan, Former Head of Product, Comic Relief