UK Universities Have ‘Abysmal’ Lack of BME Staff in Leadership Positions

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There is an issue of lack of BME (Black and Minority Ethnic) representation in management and leadership roles at UK universities, according to leading voices in higher education at their third summit to advance race equality in the workplace.

In the 2017-18 academic year, 16% of all UK academic staff and 12% of non-academic staff, 10% of professors, and 6.9% of other senior academic staff (with known ethnicity) were BME.

Professor of Education at the University of Pennsylvania, Marybeth Gasman, research specialist in racism and diversity in higher education, said BME representation in leadership roles in the US is also low, but “not as low as the UK, where it is abysmal”.

At a recent BME Leadership Summit by Advance HE, professor Binna Kandola, co-founder of  a business-psychology consultancy that aims to improve diversity and inclusion Pearn Kandola, gave a keynote. He told the Times Higher Education,too many people believe that racism is a thing of the past”, when it has instead “mutated” to become “subtle […] oblique […] indirect”.

The solution involves senior leadership, in particular vice-chancellors, being engaged and recognising that, “it’s an issue in academia, it’s an issue in their university”, and being transparent and accountable in taking action, Professor Kandola argued.

He said that universities could collect more data of their own on BME representation in senior roles and listen to what their staff are telling them about their experiences.

A programme on diversifying leadership is one of Advance HE’s efforts to take on the problem, which supports early career BME academics and professionals with sponsors to provide guidance in making initial attempts to climb to senior positions.

The programme director, Jannett Morgan, described the sponsorship as a “critical intervention” and a “career game changer” for BME staff as sponsors use their seniority and “organisational capital” to actively advocate and “open doors” to promote their protégés’ careers.

“White staff need to “push back against whites who enforce systemic racism and need to constantly reflect on their own behaviour”

– Dr Marybeth Gasman

Dr Marybeth Gasman, director of the Penn Centre for Minority Serving Institutions, explained systemic racism in university policy, procedure and hiring committees is the central issue in the US. She added that solutions involved – the training to identify systemic racism of search and hiring committees and increasing awareness of their own implicit and explicit biases. On hiring committees, Dr Gasman mentioned that the have to be active in their searches, have to move beyond their comfort zone, and need to push for more diversity and stop being comfortable hiring people just like themselves.

Continuing to highlight the importance of creating paths to a variety of roles in higher education so that, “lack of minorities” in the pipeline “can’t be used as an excuse”.

She concluded that increasing mentoring of BME people for higher education leadership roles and encouraging white staff to “push back against whites who enforce systemic racism and need to constantly reflect on their own behaviour”.

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Natural Sciences student and News & Investigations Editor 2019-20.

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