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Is there enough support available for female academics from BAME backgrounds?

11th April 2022

Author: Dr Yaz Osho, Senior Lecturer at the University of Westminster and founder of the Black Academic Network (BAN) and Black, Asian and Minoritised Ethnic Women in Academic Support Network (BAMEWA).

Recent online campaigns raising the profile of the work of academics of colour – such as, #citeblackwomen, #blackintheivory, and #blackinacademia and more broader campaigns such as, Why Isn’t My Professor Black? Why is my curriculum white? and the Rhodes Must Fall, have brought widespread attention to universities’ failure to address the differential outcomes of staff of colour, the need to amplify academics of colour voices and the impact of universities’ colonial legacy on curricula and frame.

Within the backdrop of these important movements and campaigns, it has become increasingly clear that academics and students of colour require safe spaces to heal, regroup and share their lived experiences without fear of recrimination, judgement and microinvalidations.

Responding to this need, I founded Black, Asian and Minoritised Ethnic Women in Academic Support Network (BAMEWA) in October 2017 on Facebook, followed by a website launch in 2020. I was motivated to start BAMEWA because of the microinvalidations that I and other academics of colour have experienced in spaces that are labelled as being inclusive, but actually exclude academics of colour.

Members of BAMEWA are vocal about the challenges that BAME women face in global higher education which range from hypervisibility, racial profiling, lack of equitable opportunities through to a lack of understanding of the emotional and financial burden put on migrant women academics, and an increased likelihood of BAME women academics facing precarious contracts due to fitting their expertise into narrow existing structures.

I have heard comments from members summarising this experience including: 'Black women are not generally seen as leaders with additional monetary value, therefore, often times not only do they occupy space in the margins of leadership, they are positioned as deficit.... this needs to change'; 'I'm aware of multiple BAME women doing great work in their own realms but higher education Institutions seem to minimise their expertise by not affording them with equitable opportunities or not encouraging them to flourish like their counterparts'; and 'promotions are rigged and tend to be offered to white colleagues with limited experience and qualifications. The working environment in higher education is toxic having to navigate racial profiling microaggressions whilst trying to embed race equality is exhausting'.

In response to this, I am starting to see universities attempt to foster an equitable environment for BAME women in academia, but more needs to be done. Institutionally universities must:

  1. Review their policies and procedures for dealing with racism and discrimination
  2. Recognise and reward BAME staff who are commonly engaged in race and EDI work for their efforts and link this work to opportunities for career progression
  3. Introduce positive action measures, such as co-ethnic coaching, mentoring and development programmes that are ringfenced for BAME women academics should be rolled out. These programmes should be linked to further opportunities for progression and development for participants
  4. Increase representation of BAME women on recruitment panels, at senior leadership level and on key committees
  5. Foster environments where BAME women academics feel able to put themselves forward for promotion and practices where they have an equitable chance to succeed
  6. Commission cross-institutional projects and research which aim to understand the institutional and outside institution barriers that BAME women face at various stages in their careers to support the research and academic talent pipeline. These projects should be linked to recommendations and actions cross-university to tackle the barriers discovered
  7. Line managers must have EDI objectives embedded into their job descriptions and PDRs and their knowledge, skills and competencies should be developed as transformational and inclusive leaders.

As can be seen, there is a lot more work to repair the leaky pipeline for BAME women academics.

BAMEWA holds the space for BAME women academics that are routinely dealing with barriers relating to career progression, precarious contracts and microaggressions. BAMEWA needs to access funds to expand its impact, and also to amplify the needs of black academics specifically.

Working with BAMEWA for the last five years has magnified even more the problematic use of the term ‘BAME’. There is great diversity within ‘BAME’ and the finer distinctions and particularities of ethnic groups are lost within this homogenisation of difference. Black academics, tend to fear worse in academic employment and pay, as data has shown that lower proportions of UK and non-UK Black ethnic staff compared to white staff are on open-ended/permanent contracts, in senior management positions, and on higher salary bands* (Advance HE, 2021).

Not one to rest on my laurels, I am launching a new membership network: Black Academic Network (BAN) at the end of 2022. BAN’s aim is very much to amplify the voices of black academics, thus moving away from the umbrella of 'BAME'. We are in the process of pursuing charity status and will be open to black academics with a university affiliation in the first instance, with the intention of extending our membership to independent black scholars once we grow.

One thing that I hope you take from this blog is that it is time to break with the norms and embrace, include and highlight the voices of academics of colour who are so often silenced and marginalised. In 2022, I hope to see more publishers follow Emerald Publishing in amplifying diverse voices in academia and in editorial boards. I want to see universities critically reviewing their actions and results on equity and inclusion and would like to witness more support and resources in place for black academics who are working towards professorships, so we can see an increase in black professors from the dismal 0.7% that we currently have in UK universities.

BAN is looking for universities to partner with and organisations who support our values to sponsor our work. We are also seeking trustees to support our work – find out more about BAN.

*Advance HE (2021) Equality in higher education: statistical reports 2021,…, [Accessed 28/02/2022]

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