Black female academics ‘face culture of bullying’

A new report highlights the battle black female academics face to gain promotion and recognition.

Business Woman


A culture of bullying and stereotyping means black female academics have to work harder and employ mentally draining strategies to try and get on, according to a new report.

The report, Staying Power, by Dr Nicola Rollock for the University and College Union, highlights that there are only 25 black female professors in the UK, making up just 0.1% of all professors, compared to white men who represent two-thirds (68%) of professors.

It is based on in-depth interviews with 20 of the 25. Half of the 20 interviewees were born outside of the UK and a similar proportion had a career before moving into higher education. Respondents spoke of a culture where the route to professorship lacks transparency and values only certain forms of knowledge and achievement.

This included explicit and passive bullying and clumsy stereotyping. They also spoke of the mentally draining strategies they needed to devise and implement at speed to cope. One professor explains how after “over preparing as usual” for a meeting she was still introduced by a senior white colleague as the student representative.

Equality of opportunity

The report says improvements for black academics are not possible unless there is a fundamental shift in how race and racism are understood. UCU said universities need to rise to the challenge set out in the report and to overhaul their promotion structures so there is genuine equality of opportunity.

UCU head of policy Matt Waddup said: “This report tells of a higher education system that is plagued by bullying and stereotyping, and forces black women to develop strategies just to cope. They don’t feel they can be themselves, yet also feel forced into the role of stereotype and role model.

“We need to look at how to transform a system that black female professors say is riddled with unfairness and bias. That starts with an overhaul of promotion structures to ensure genuine equality of opportunity.”

Dr Nicola Rollock said: “Institutional statements expressing commitment to equality and diversity lack sincerity in the context of the findings. That these black female academics have reached professorship despite their experiences of racism, bullying and lack of support reflects their talent and sheer determination to succeed. Ambition should not be thwarted by discrimination.”


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