Why the lack of professor diversity cannot be ignored

Victoria Osho on the lack of BAME professors across the UK

Victoria Osho
3rd March 2020
Image: U.S. Army Combat Capabilities Development Command Army Research Laboratory on Flickr
Statistically, less than 1% of University professors are black. It is not new information that white people (particularly white men) have long dominated higher education teaching, for as long as we can remember. But just how bad is this lack of diversity amongst professors? How do Universities encourage this? And how can they improve?

Firstly, there is the perception that BAME staff are incompetent compared to their white counterparts. A number of BAME individuals, particularly women, have reported their research not being as highly regarded as that of white professors, particularly white male professors. This not only leads to self-doubt, but stories like this repel other BAME individuals from thinking about becoming a professor in the future.

There is a 14% race pay gap for academic staff in the UK

This feeling of inadequacy compared to their white colleagues is further perpetuated by the shocking wage gap between white and black professors. According to University and College Union (UCU) analytics reported in The Independent, “White academic staff at the UK’s universities and college were also found to earn £7,000 more than their black peers, or 14 percent more. They took home an average of £49,065 compared to £42,065 for the latter group”. The Universities and Colleges Employers Association (UCEA) are also quoted as saying ““Pay penalties” for BME staff doing the same jobs as white colleagues were “significant””.

There are also personal stories that suggest a large amount of BAME academic staff and professors feel the need to “give up their authenticity” to feel respected and accepted by their white counterparts.

Universities must understand their role in the wage gap

What can Universities do to try and eradicate this? To start with, close the wage gap between white and BAME academic staff. Universities must come to terms with the large role they play in the wage gap. They have to tackle it head on by equally allotting wages to all races doing the same amount of work. By doing this, they are sending a message to the workplace. They show that BAME professors must be taken seriously, and deserve to be there just as much as their white colleagues.

It is also important to make the environment as tolerant of BAME academic staff as possible. BAME individuals should not feel the need to downplay their identities and authenticity. See the idea that afro hair is not ‘professional enough’, or that non-British BAME individuals feel the need to ‘change’ their accent to be accepted. Clearly, Universities must tackle the seeping racism in the academic workplace that deters BAME individuals.

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