Will lack of career progression drive Black female academics overseas?

Despite the persistence of raced and gendered inequalities in higher education, the HE sector has failed to introduce effective measures to tackle the under-representation of women of colour at senior levels.

All too often, we find the only solutions proposed are premised on the deficit model – an assumption that women academics of colour need mentoring or special ‘leadership’ training to gain access to senior roles.

There has been no acknowledgement that the problem lies with the institutional culture that seems not to value the intellectual and cultural capital that women of colour bring to the knowledge economy – and White privilege – which comes at the expense of and to the disadvantage of people of colour.

To give an indication of the scale of the problem – out of 19,630 professors in the 2014/15 academic year, of which 3895 are White females – only 30 females are Black, 10 Pakistani, 5 Bangladeshi, 75 Chinese and 80 Indian.

As the table shows, there is an under-representation of women in professorial roles among all ethnic groups, but it is most pronounced for Black, Pakistani and Bangladeshi women, relative to population size.

A consultation survey completed by Black Sister Network members in 2015 found that among the respondents, only 20% were at grade 9 and above, while 80% were at grade 7 – and furthermore 60% of respondents said there were no women of colour at grade 9 and above in their faculty.

However, lack of ambition is not a factor since 40% of respondents said they aspired to be professors, 40% aspired to be associate deans and 20% aspired to be readers.

Given the increasingly internationalized labour market and the impact of globalization affecting the labour market and transnational movement of cultural capital – opportunities abound outside the UK offering a greater chance of career progression.

One Black female academic that is leaving the UK for a Professorship in South Africa is Dr Shirley Anne Tate, who will be leaving her role as Associate Professor of Race and Culture at the School of Sociology and Social Policy at Leeds University.

Dr Tate told Black Sister Network that she applied for three professorships in the UK in 2015/16 but was not short-listed for any of them, despite being head-hunted by Penn State University (USA) and University of the Free State (South Africa).

Commenting on her move to South Africa, Dr Tate said:

“I don't have a preferred seat at any table and racism and sexism mean that I have never been invested in at any institution. Moving away is not hard. I have nothing to lose and much to gain. I will miss sisters and brothers in the struggle here who have been an immense source of support over the years – but I am looking forward to new challenges and working in a new political context where at least I know that my work has a place.”

Dr Tate is much loved and cherished by fellow academics and students alike. Leeds PhD student Remi Salisbury said:

“Shirley has been an invaluable mentor for me. She is an incredible and inspiring academic whose critical insight will be sorely missed by British academia generally, and the University of Leeds particularly. It is saddening that British universities still do not seem to do enough to keep outstanding Black academics. Most importantly for me, Shirley is a warm and caring person with passion and an unwavering commitment to Black liberation.”

Speaking on behalf of Black British Academics and the wider academic community of colour, I share Remi’s sentiments. As an early career researcher Shirley is one of the best academics I could hope to work with. She is insightful, reflective, analytical, caring, supportive and inspirational. I hope to match her tremendous achievements one day and despite her move to South Africa will remain in very close contact.

I am delighted that Shirley accepted an invitation to become a Patron of Black British Academics and we are all honoured to welcome her support, leadership and collaboration going forward.

UPDATE: FEB 2017

I'm pleased to report that Shirley Tate has been offered a professorship in the Carnegie Faculty at Leeds Beckett University and takes up her post on 1 April 2017.

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Dr Deborah Gabriel

Dr Gabriel is a Senior Lecturer at Bournemouth University in the Faculty of Media and Communication and serves as Deputy Chair of the institution’s Race Equality Charter Committee. A self-defined scholar-activist, she is concerned with contributing to social justice and equality. Her research interests are focused around political communication and discourse, raced and gendered constructions and representations in media and popular culture, equality, inclusion and liberation in teaching practice and the dynamics of race, ethnicity and culture in higher education. In addition to a full-time academic role, she is the Founder and Director of Black British Academics and undertakes consultancy work in research, public relations, strategic communication, equality, diversity and inclusion in educational and academic practice.

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