Black and Minority Ethnic Staff in Higher Education – How HE Establishments Should Continue to Address the Imbalance

Timothy Ijoyemi

Tim has more than 10 years experience in HE. He has a strong passion for Equity, Diversity and Inclusion in HE. With equivalent experience in recruitment in HE, he has also developed a range of expertise in HE talent acquisition.


Black and Minority Ethnic Staff in Higher Education – How HE Establishments Should Continue to Address the Imbalance Careers in HE


1. Overview/Exec Summary

2. The Situation Today

3. Trends

3.1 How do these figures compare with wider UK employment?

4. Which Universities are doing well?

5. Black Women Focus

6. Focus on Global Situation – is the UK alone in this?

6.1 USA

7. Ethnicity Pay Gap in HE

7.1 Ethnic Pay Gap in England and Wales

8. Retention

8.1. Barriers to Career Progression for Minority Ethnic Staff

9. From Student to Employee within HE

10. Black Lives Matter

11. View from the Frontline – Staff Interview Survey

12. Recommendations

13. Conclusions

1. Overview/Executive Summary

Back in 2011 a report published by ECU titled “The experience of Black and minority ethnic staff in higher education in England” highlighted the ongoing issues Black staff endure in HE establishments, reporting that “the significant disparity between universities’ policy commitments and the experiences of Black, Asian and minority ethnic staff suggests ongoing institutional barriers and discriminatory practices in the higher education sector” and calling for action. 11 years later the issues persist.

In 2020 the Black Lives Matter (BLM) movement came to the fore and forced higher education institutions (HEIs) across the world to start having conversations about our shared history and its link to the inequalities that impact Black people today.

While diversity and inclusion have long been a part of the talent and HR function of organisations across all sectors, the BLM movement has driven these to the forefront of the recruitment and retention process. Across the UK there is clear evidence that employment and pay for Black employees is below that of their white counterparts. Higher education (HE) is no different and while there has been significant work done in addressing these problems, there still exist wide divides particularly within academic and senior staff roles. Some organisations are doing well and addressing the issues successfully and publicly, but there is concern that closing the gap is not happening fast or universally enough. BLM has focussed minds but much still needs to be done to address inequalities.

HE holds a unique place between education and employment, allowing opportunity to drive engagement and opportunity for Black students and staff and as such these organisations have a responsibility to facilitate opportunities for movement into, and progression through, employment in HE.

2. The Situation Today

Universities in the UK employed 217,000 academic staff and 223,000 non-academic staff in the year 2018-19, recording increases of around 5,000 each in comparison with the previous year. Nearly one in three academic staff are now non-UK nationals.

However, Black, Asian and minority ethnic staff were underrepresented in the highest contract levels and overrepresented in the lowest. Only 4.1% of Universities and Colleges Employers Association (UCEA) level 2 (second highest contract level) staff were Black, Asian and minority ethnic compared with 13.7% of Simple Task Providers (lowest contract level).

When it comes to Black staff there have been numerous reports in the press highlighting the underrepresentation of Black professors but the figures across the board are similarly revealing. A total of 1.9% of all academic staff employed in UK HE are Black while 3.7% of non-academic staff are Black. Across both groups the percentage of staff employed in HE who are Black is a little over 2.5%. To put this into context, around 3.3% of the UK population is Black.

Black and Minority Ethnic Staff in Higher Education – How HE Establishments Should Continue to Address the Imbalance Careers in HE

As seniority increases the issue of a lack of diversity increases. In 2018/19 the data show that there were 535 staff who were employed as “ academic managers, directors or senior officials” across British universities. 475 of these were White, 25 Asian, mixed or other ethnicity, and none Black. The remaining 35 were of unknown ethnicity.1

But figures on senior Black academics are stark with statistics showing that less than 1% of the professors employed at UK universities are Black and few British universities employ more than two Black professors.

The latest figures from Advance HE report that there are just 85 Black professors within UK HEIs, accounting for 0.6% of the UK Professoriate. Only 4.6% of all Black academic staff occupy this senior level role while 11.2% of White academic staff hold this position. The UCU data show that White academics are over twice as likely to be professors as Black academics.2

Similarly, the data for governors of HE establishments is skewed against Black academics.

Black and Minority Ethnic Staff in Higher Education – How HE Establishments Should Continue to Address the Imbalance Careers in HE

Similarly, as non-academic seniority increases the issue of lack of diversity increases. In 2018/19 the data shows that there were 11,860 staff who were employed as “non-academic managers, directors or senior officials” across British universities. 10,510 of these were White, 410 Asian, 215 mixed or other ethnicity, and 185 are Black. The remaining 540 – ethnicity was not known.1

In conclusion, while the overall percentage of the Black HE workforce sits at around 2.5%, under the 3.3% total Black population but continuing to rise, the numbers start to more negatively skew once academic staff and seniority are taken into account. While the number of Black employees in HE is increasing, work clearly needs to be done in attracting and retaining academic and senior Black staff.3

3. Trends

While BLM has bought the racial diversity issue to the fore over the past year there had already been a drive towards inclusivity and diversity across the board in UK employment. How successful this has been in HE is not uniform and some HEIs have done better than others, although overall there has been an increase in ethnic minority and Black staff over the past 15 years.

Between 2003/04 and 2018/19 the data show that the total number of people employed by HEIs grew considerably. There was a 2.4% increase in staff numbers between 2017/18 and 2018/19, and a 30.1% increase between 2003/04 and 2018/19 from 338,105 to 439,955. The majority of this growth can be attributed to academic staff, where numbers increased by 44.5%, compared with a growth of 18.6% among professional and support staff.

Black and Minority Ethnic Staff in Higher Education – How HE Establishments Should Continue to Address the Imbalance Careers in HE

It is accurate to say that the staff population of HEIs has become increasingly ethnically diverse, with the Black, Asian and minority ethnic staff population showing the highest growth among academics. Between 2003/04 and 2018/19, the proportion of all staff who were White British steadily decreased (from 83.1% to 71.4%), while all other groups increased, most notably those from non-UK White backgrounds (from 8.3% to 14.1%). During this same period, the proportion of all staff who were UK Black, Asian and minority ethnic increased from 4.8% to 8.2%, and the proportion of non-UK Black, Asian and minority ethnic staff from 3.8% to 6.3%.

However, it seems that Black staffing trends have been slower to change. There has been a slight increase in the percentage of all staff who are Black over the past few years, rising from 2.35% in 2017/18 to 2.5% in 2018/19. For non-academic staff, the percentage has increased from 2.9% to 3.7% and for academic staff from 1.75% to 1.9%.

 3.1 How do these figures compare with the employment figures for England and Wales?

According to the 2011 Census, the total population of England and Wales was 56.1 million. 86% of the population was White, while Black ethnic groups account for 3.3%.4

In 2018, Black people had the highest unemployment rate out of all the ethnic groups at 9% compared with 4% for White ethnic groups and 7% for all other ethnic groups.5

Black and Minority Ethnic Staff in Higher Education – How HE Establishments Should Continue to Address the Imbalance Careers in HE

The percentage of Black people that are employed in the UK is 67% has increased from 60% to 67% since 2004.

A recent study from the University of Manchester reports that the employment prospects of some ethnic minorities have improved since the 1970s but still lag behind the White majority because of “persistent racism”. The researcher discovered that although progress has been made, most ethnic minority groups are still more likely to be in manual work or unemployed than White ethnic groups with women of Bangladeshi, Black and Pakistani ethnicity between 1.6 and 5.3 times more likely to be out of work or sick.7

Clearly the situation in HE is not unique in terms of employment of Black staff and in some areas – lower paid/less senior/non-academic staff – it appears to be doing better than overall figures for the UK, but the sector is falling down in many areas and these need more work.

4. Which Universities are Doing Well?

While most HE establishments are increasingly tackling the issues of lack of Black, Asian and minority ethnic staff, particularly since the BLM movement came to prominence, some are doing better than others.

According to HESA statistics Oxford, Sussex, Manchester and Warwick were among the few universities to employ enough senior Black academics to show up in the official statistics, while Warwick and Manchester also stand out as making progress in their pay gap and employment rates respectively.

Warwick University

In 2015, ethnic minority academics at the University of Warwick were paid on average 25% less than their White colleagues, according to a Freedom of Information request sent by the BBC. The University, however, put the figure at 15.5%, while the 25 Black academics earned on average 39% less according to the FOI.

According to the latest pay gap report using data produced 31 March 2019 internally by the university, the mean hourly rate of pay for staff of White ethnicity was 8.2% higher than for Black, Asian and minority ethnic staff and the median hourly rate of pay for staff of White ethnicity was 4.2% higher than for Black, Asian and minority ethnic staff. As a continuation to end the ethnic pay gap the university made the following announcement:

We have funded the development of the “Tackling racial inequality at Warwick University” Staff Development Programme. This Programme, which is grounded in Critical Race Theory, was initiated by the WIHEA Anti-Racist Pedagogy and Process Learning Circle and is being led by two staff members with expertise in the histories and operation of ‘race’ and anti-racist pedagogies. It will be made available across the University for all teaching staff and supported by a Teaching Forum focused on embedding anti-racist pedagogy in the curriculum across the University.8  

University of Manchester

According to data from their 2019 “Equality Information Report”, the percentage of Black employees at the University of Manchester had reached 15.8%, rising to 28.4% for professional services staff, although only 5.7% for academic staff. Overall significantly higher than the national average, and they continue to work on improving. The equality objectives developed in April 2016 state that the university aims to “improve the representation of women and Black, Asian and minority ethnic (Black, Asian and minority ethnic) staff in senior leadership, academic and professional support positions.

There has been a 3.1% increase in Black, Asian and minority ethnic staff across the university since 2014, with a 4% increase in Black, Asian and minority ethnic academics and a 2.5% increase in Black, Asian and minority ethnic PS staff 9.

Black and Minority Ethnic Staff in Higher Education – How HE Establishments Should Continue to Address the Imbalance Careers in HE

Black and Minority Ethnic Staff in Higher Education – How HE Establishments Should Continue to Address the Imbalance Careers in HE

London South Bank University

The university has declared a desire to end the ethnic pay gap within their organisation. With 13% of their workforce being Black they have a significantly high percentage of Black employees.

Black and Minority Ethnic Staff in Higher Education – How HE Establishments Should Continue to Address the Imbalance Careers in HE

While the pay gap between White and Black in 2017 was a worrying 25.19% in 2017 they have, in 2 years, managed to reduce this to 11.93% in 2019. While there is work to be done the university is committed to closing the gap completely 10.

Black and Minority Ethnic Staff in Higher Education – How HE Establishments Should Continue to Address the Imbalance Careers in HE

While the above results are to be commended it is not only clear that there is significant work to be done, but there is also a wide discrepancy between establishments. While the above stand out as impressive gains there remains to be sector-wide movement particularly within ethnic pay gap policies and reporting structures.

LSBU is working hard to close ethnicity and gender pay gaps through:

  • delivering inclusive recruitment at all levels of their organisation;
  • opening up new promotion routes for staff to develop and move roles;
  • providing coaching, mentoring and sponsorship for LSBU staff.

5. Black Women Focus

The UK only has 695 Black women in academic teaching positions, the positions includes, Lecturers, Teaching Fellows and Professors out of a total of 100,365 women.

For very many years there have been discussions and calls for more Black women staff in higher education. As far back as 1980 Myrtis Hall Mosley, in “Black Women Administrators in Higher Education: An Endangered Species”, notes that:

Black women college administrators are few in number, occupy peripheral positions, have little power, receive little support from peers, are underpaid and overworked, and are disillusioned about the prospects for improvement in their status.11

But despite the calls for equality the situation seems to have changed little across HE whether in academic or non-academic roles.

The “Staying Power” report produced by Dr Nicola Rollock (Reader in Equality and Education at Goldsmiths, University of London) in February 2019 explores the career experiences of UK Black female professors. Her report concludes that, at the time of writing, within the UK only 27 professors were Black women.

While this figure may appear low it may come as a surprise that the findings also indicate that Black female professors are in fact a relatively fast-growing group – 60% of those interviewed having been appointed professor within the last five years. Only two of those interviewed for this report had been a professor for 10 years or longer. The starting point of two from only ten years ago is dismal and 27 is still far from acceptable, but progress is being made in this area, albeit slowly.

However, the report goes on to say that a culture of “explicit and passive bullying” persists within all areas of HE along with “racial stereotyping and racial microaggressions”. Interviewees cited many examples of bullying and racism across the board from HE staff.12

6. Focus on Global Situation – is the UK Alone in This?

So how are others doing in the employment of Black, Asian and minority ethnic staff in HE? Is the UK alone in having a disproportionate number of non-Black staff within academic and non-academic roles? We turn our attention to the USA by way of comparison.

6.1 USA

In 2018, of the 1.5 million faculty in HEIs, 54% were full time and 46% were part time. Faculty include professors, associate professors, assistant professors, instructors, lecturers, adjunct professors, and interim professors. Of all full-time faculty, 40% were White males, 35% were White females, 7% were Asian/Pacific Islander males, 5% were Asian/Pacific Islander females, and Black males, Black females, Hispanic males, and Hispanic females were 3% each.

Among full-time professors, 53% were White males, 27% were White females, 8% were Asian/Pacific Islander males, and 3% were Asian/Pacific Islander females. Black males, Black females, and Hispanic males each accounted for 2% of full-time professors 13.

Black and Minority Ethnic Staff in Higher Education – How HE Establishments Should Continue to Address the Imbalance Careers in HE

Considering Black and African Americans make up 13% of the total US population, with 4% of full-time professors being Black and only 6% total academic staff being Black these figures are, if anything more stark than the UK’s figures.

Black and African American employees make up less than 10% of HE professionals, according to the College and University Professional Association for Human Resources.14

Among administrators and executive leadership, this disparity is even greater. CUPA-HR’s report shows that less than 8% of administrators are Black or African American, and more than 80% are White.15

The UK is not alone in having work to do the ensure representative racial diversity in HE employment. The US figures are, if anything, worse than the UK with clear inequalities across the board. BLM has been a huge movement across the USA and it is hoped that the impetus created by this publicity will be a driving force for more equality throughout HE in the US.

7. Ethnicity Pay Gap in HE

Black employees of HEIs not only face an apparent lack of opportunity, they also experience a significant pay gap. There has been much talk recently in the press about gender pay gaps and corporations across the globe now actively report on this. Increasingly HEIs are reporting on both their gender and ethnicity pay gaps and are actively trying to resolve issues that exist, as seen in the case study above for London South Bank University. The ethnicity pay gap is a real issue too and one that requires highlighting and tackling.

Findings by the University and College Union (UCU) on the ethnicity pay gap in 2018 show that:

  • Black academic staff are paid 14% less than White academic staff;
  • Asian academic staff have a smaller pay gap (9%) compared to White academic staff than Black academic staff (14%) 16 .
Average salary by ethnicity
White Black Asian Other Black, Asian and minority ethnic
Overall- all staff £39,630 £32,875 £39,135 £38,485 £37,825
All academic staff £49,065 £42,065 £44,890 £44,590 £44,470
Professors £82,665 £76,610 £83,170 £81,190 £82,195
Senior academics £59,095 £57,335 £60,805 £59,075 £60,010
Mid-career academics £47,185 £46,210 £47,100 £46,680 £46,860
Early career academics £36,365 £35,515 £35,555 £35,605 £35,565
Academic-related managers £49,395 £48,045 £49,020 £48,600 £48,730
Academic-related professionals £34,195 £34,545 £34,550 £34,160 £34,460


Pay gap relative to White staff
Black Asian Other Black, Asian and minority ethnic
Overall- all staff 17% 1% 3% 5%
All academic staff 14% 9% 9% 9%
Professors 7% -1% 2% 1%
Senior academics 3% -3% 0% -2%
Mid-career academics 2% 0% 1% 1%
Early career academics 2% 2% 2% 2%
Academic-related managers 3% 1% 2% 1%
Academic-related professionals -1% -1% 0% -1%

7.1 Ethnic Pay Gap in England and Wales

The data show that there is an 8% pay gap between White and Black employees across England and Wales, significantly less than the 14% seen within HE. The ethnicity pay gap between White and Black, Asian and minority ethnic employees has narrowed to its smallest level since 2012 in England and Wales, and work is being done individually across HEIs but more needs to be done not only to bring the sector in line with UK-wide statistics but to make HE a stand-out sector17.

Black and Minority Ethnic Staff in Higher Education – How HE Establishments Should Continue to Address the Imbalance Careers in HE

8. Retention

According to the 2019 report “Tackling Racial Harassment: Universities Challenged 18, 3 in 20 staff said racial harassment caused them to leave their jobs. From 585 responses:

  • 171 staff had experienced harassment from an academic colleague
  • 134 staff had experienced harassment from professional services or support staff
  • 106 staff (almost one third) had experienced racist name-calling, insults and ‘jokes’
  • More than half of staff had reported incidents of being ignored or excluded because of their race18

A survey from UCU of 631 Black union members working in post-16 education found that:

  • 71% said they had ‘often’ or ‘sometimes’ been subject to bullying and harassment from managers;
  • 90% reported having faced barriers to promotion in colleges and universities.

The report demonstrates that racial harassment impacts careers. Behaviours include exclusion from decision-making meetings, lack of opportunities for learning, and not acknowledging insight or innovation.

Furthermore, a study involving Black female professors Rollock’s aforementioned “Staying Power” report, which focuses on the experiences of Black women, found that “a culture of explicit and passive bullying persists across higher education along with racial stereotyping and racial microaggressions”. The study described how Black academics were “ostracised by colleagues” and felt the need to “go out of their way to demonstrate their competence, experience and knowledge”.

All of this leads to an overall environment that is not conducive to retention of Black, Asian and minority ethnic staff and which is not only a source of talent drain but also leads to the documented lack of Black employees in management and senior academic roles.

Research from Advance HE reports that the low morale of Black, Asian and minority ethnic employees is allowing international institutions to take advantage, leading to a ‘brain drain’ within UK higher education.19  Furthermore, the attainment of ethnic minority students has been directly linked to the number of engaged ethnic minority HE staff and as such it is vital not only to retain but to engage these staff.20

The “Tackling Racial Harassment: Universities Challenged”  report recommends:

A change in university culture where leaders understand issues of harassment, set expectations, provide oversight and scrutiny and implement training to embed a culture which is free from harassment and supports good relations.


8.1 Barriers to Career Progression for Minority Ethnic Staff

Not only do Black staff face a significant pay gap, they also experience barriers to career progression. Analysis by UCU on Black staff revealed that:

  • one in nine White academic staff are professors, compared to one in 33 Black academic staff
  • Black, Asian and minority ethnic staff are underrepresented in senior positions and overrepresented in more junior roles.

The union’s analysis found that Black, Asian and minority ethnic staff were significantly underrepresented in the most senior positions. As mentioned above one in nine White academic staff (11%) are professors, compared to just one in 33 (3%) Black academic staff while one in 15 (7%) Asian academic staff are professors. Overall, 84% of academic staff are White, but a disproportionate percentage of them are holding senior positions with 93% of professors and 91% of academic-related managers being White 21.

Representation by ethnicity
White Black Asian Other
Overall- all staff 86% 3% 8% 3%
All academic staff 84% 2% 10% 4%
Professors 93% 2% 4% 2%
Senior academics 88% 1% 8% 3%
Mid-career academics 85% 2% 9% 4%
Early career academics 81% 2% 12% 5%
Academic-related managers 91% 2% 5% 2%
Academic-related professionals 88% 3% 6% 3%

9. From Student to Employee within HE

Black student recruitment and retention is an issue – is this due to a lack of Black staff?  HESA figures show that there is a significant attainment gap between White and Black students at university. 80.9% of White students received a first or upper second class degree, compared to only 57.5% of Black students. Having low numbers of Black, Asian and minority ethnic staff has been identified as limiting an establishment’s ability to address this attainment gap. Increasing staff, particularly in senior roles, should go some way to helping address the attainment imbalance.

There exists a significant barrier to entry for Black academics moving into academic employment. Last year, Leading Routes published a report which revealed that there was a total of 15,560 full-time UK-domiciled PhD students in their first year of study and just 3% of those students were Black. A Freedom of Information request to UK Research and Innovation (UKRI) revealed that over the last three academic years (2016/17-2018/19), of the total 19,868 funded PhD studentships awarded by UKRI research councils collectively, 245 (1.2%) were awarded to Black or Black mixed students, with just 30 of those being from Black Caribbean backgrounds.

10. Black Lives Matter

In 2013, the Black Lives Matter (BLM) movement was created in response to the acquittal of Trayvon Martin’s murderer, George Zimmerman.

While this was the start of the movement, it truly came to the forefront of the global stage during the worldwide protests in 2020 following the killing of George Floyd by Minneapolis police. An estimated 15 to 26 million people participated in the 2020 Black Lives Matter protests in the United States, making BLM one of the largest movements in US history.

While corporations and organisations across the world were already engaging with diversity issues, the BLM events of 2020 have led to their attention being truly focussed on the issues of racial diversity. Many of these organisations have responded quickly and positively to the movement highlighting continuing issues of lack of diversity. Within HE establishments there was already a move in most organisations towards increasing diversity and reducing ethnicity pay gaps, but BLM has accelerated the need both to be seen to be taking action and to demonstrate positive results. It is no longer acceptable to make a statement of intent of inclusivity and diversity – it is now essential to show results and proof of action.

In July 2020, 300 academics and students wrote an open letter criticising universities for their “tokenistic and superficial” support for the BLM movement given their poor record on tackling institutional racism. In the letter they said the sector had significantly underestimated the prevalence of racism and had failed to address its “systemic and structural nature”.

They went on to say that many UK HEIs have used the murder of George Floyd to put out statements indicating their commitment to the BLM movement but that those same organisations have been “overly optimistic” in their assessment of the problems.

In relation to hiring they request:

  • Where universities make use of executive search firms, they should have demonstrable expertise in diversity and inclusion and, be purposeful about including suitably qualified Black, Asian and minority ethnic candidates in shortlists.
  • Universities should publish by ethnicity, data on candidates who have applied for, been shortlisted and successful in securing senior appointments on an annual basis.

In relation to Racial Pay Gap they request:

  • Universities to publish data pertaining to the racial pay gap by grade and show how this data intersects by gender.

In relation to Promotion and Progression they request:

  • Universities make public the number of Black and minority staff achieving promotion and/or progressing each academic year and state actions to improve this.”

It is too early to see if this and the BLM movement have had any real effect on the recruitment, retention, promotion, and pay of Black staff, although in recent survey we conducted with current staff in HE, all respondents thought that BLM had made an impact on diversity issues at their establishment.

Black and Minority Ethnic Staff in Higher Education – How HE Establishments Should Continue to Address the Imbalance Careers in HE

11.Views from the Frontline – Staff Interview Survey

We asked a total of 143 university staff across a range of academic and non-academic roles, including university administrators, research assistant, Lecturers, Teaching Fellows and Professors, about their current experiences within the HE system. 55 of the participants are male and 76 are female. 12 chose not to disclose their gender. 44 of the participants are black, 53 are white, 20 are Asian, 8 are of mixed background and 18 did not disclose their gender. This survey was undertaken to see if the above secondary analysis presented thus far in this report was representative of the views of staff ‘on the ground’ in UK HEIs.

As seen from the charts that follow the majority of respondents feel that there are issues with the number and retention of Black staff at their place of work, with 67% having experienced some negative bias personally.

Black and Minority Ethnic Staff in Higher Education – How HE Establishments Should Continue to Address the Imbalance Careers in HE Black and Minority Ethnic Staff in Higher Education – How HE Establishments Should Continue to Address the Imbalance Careers in HE Black and Minority Ethnic Staff in Higher Education – How HE Establishments Should Continue to Address the Imbalance Careers in HE Black and Minority Ethnic Staff in Higher Education – How HE Establishments Should Continue to Address the Imbalance Careers in HE Black and Minority Ethnic Staff in Higher Education – How HE Establishments Should Continue to Address the Imbalance Careers in HE







However, the majority also believe that things are being actively done to address these issues.

Black and Minority Ethnic Staff in Higher Education – How HE Establishments Should Continue to Address the Imbalance Careers in HE

When asked:

What do you think could be done better in ensuring equal opportunities in promotion for ethnically diverse staff? Responses included:

  • Tackle systemic racism. Face up to the fact that we need to provide Equity to underrepresented groups.
  • Leadership dev programmes which are ethnically diverse or focused solely on under-represented groups. Also, flatter mgmt structures with fewer levels of mgmt so people aren’t just in token senior roles as that also isn’t progress.
  • Offer promotion programmes/ shadowing etc. for staff from diverse background.
  • unconscious bias training
  • Actively promoting roles to ethnically diverse staff, advocating for staff who may not put themselves forward (referrals etc)
  • Analysing the data needs to be better so actions can be targeted. Criteria needs to be reviewed so it’s inclusive and suitable for the job (i.e. not having something not essential to the role which may act as a barrier for staff applying)
  • Include D&I members on each promotion panel


What do you think could be done better in the retention of ethnically diverse staff? Responses included:

  • Black colleagues should be treated better at work and allow for them to feel included. I have only worked with two Black colleagues in my 10 year in HE, both left because they felt bullied and constantly undermined. More White colleagues should go on training to address White privilege, unconscious bias training. Policies should be put in place to promote and train Black colleagues into senior roles. Black colleagues should not be afraid to speak out against racism at work in fear of loosing their careers
  • Train managers and staff to be culture sensitive, and to review policies and structures that does not promote or recognise people of colour. From the way they are promoted to how they are spoken to. A big review needs to be done.
  • Cultural awareness and sensitivities, more accountability – holding leaders to account if their teams are ethnically homogenous, better recruitment panels – having ethnically diverse people on the panel
  • Promoting and offering opportunities to staff from underrepresented groups. Looking at the data and targeting shortfalls in diversity. Creating a culture of inclusivity where people aren’t afraid to speak up and have their voices heard.
  • Flexible working, even in junior roles. Asking those staff what they want and giving it to them?
  • More inclusive policies, equal pay


What do you think could be done better in recruiting ethnically diverse staff? Responses included:

  • We need to stop fishing from the White pool! We should not prioritise HE experience over any other experience when recruiting for admin roles in HE. There needs to be a consideration of transferrable skills when requiting. Black colleagues should be treated better at work and allow for them to feel included. I have only worked with two Black colleagues in my 10 year in HE, both left because they felt bullied and constantly undermined.
  • Having blind recruitment processes to eliminate unconscious bias, actively working with recruitment agencies and/or organisations to evaluate recruitment process and reach more ethnic groups
  • Actively sourcing underrepresented groups, positive action at shortlisting and appointment stage, reviewing job descriptions and person specifications to make them as inclusive as possible and so you are not rejecting candidates based on institutional racial barriers
  • Encouraging ethnically diverse recruitment panels
  • Recruitment processes, educating people internally

12. Recommendations

The following section summarises the recommendations made in the various reports alongside our further research and survey responses.

HEIs are increasingly taking responsibility for closing the employment, retention and pay gap for Black employees but more needs to be done across the board to drive change. A recent report from Universities UK titled “Tackling Racial Harassment in Higher Education” highlight that UK universities “perpetuate institutional racism” and vice-chancellors should undergo training to improve racial literacy. The report was commissioned following the Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) discovering that universities were failing to address tens of thousands of racist incidents each year. While the report focusses on racial harassment, in their executive summary the report’s authors state:

We recognise that racial harassment is just one manifestation of structural racism in higher education. Efforts to address racial harassment must take place alongside a wider programme of culture and policy reform to tackle racism and racial inequalities of all forms.

The report highlights recommendations that should be followed to tackle racial harassment within HEIs. In relation to employment these recommendations ask HEIs to:

  • increase representation of staff and students from Black, Asian and minority ethnic backgrounds in recruitment and at senior levels
  • report on the ethnicity pay gap and produce an action plan to address the issues identified
  • use positive action measures, such as mentoring, development programmes, specific and time-limited quotas, and targeted advertising
  • apply for the Race Equality Charter
  • give consideration to race issues (e.g. a commitment to anti-racism, diversity among the workforce, a commitment to the Race at Work Charter) when selecting external organisations to engage with, including partner and supply organisations.

Many of these recommendations were also mentioned in the #ClosingtheGap report in 2019 which cited strong leadership as key, which should involve demonstrating a commitment to removing the Black, Asian and minority ethnic attainment gap.

The EHRC has issued guidance for organisations to practice positive action to improve equality across workplaces in the UK. These include:

  • specifically placing job adverts to target under-represented groups, in order to increase the number of applicants
  • including statements in job descriptions to encourage applications from under-represented groups, such as ‘we welcome female applicants’
  • offering training and internships for under-represented groups to increase opportunities for progress at work
  • shadowing and mentoring programmes to under-represented groups
  • open days specifically for under-represented groups to encourage them to get into a particular field
  • giving favour to the candidate from an under-represented group, should two candidates be ‘as qualified as’ each other

Other recommendations taken from case studies and successful programmes to address these issues  include:

  • Training and accountability: managers should receive specific training to ensure they are managing fairly and equitably. Department leads should be held accountable for the inclusivity of their department and ensuring issues such as diversity are addressed. There is more detail on specific training around White privilege, systemic racism, White fragility and allyship below.
  • Data collection: data and reporting need to be robust and publicly available. This includes qualitative data gathering, staff surveys and monitoring of outcomes. Data is essential in driving an organisational and national approach to tackling the issues. Without clear and consistent data gathering and reporting procedures across the HE sector, measurement of progress or lack thereof cannot take place effectively. In 2017 it became mandatory to report Gender pay gap in corporations with more than 250 employees. An analysis showed that during the first year in which gender pay gap reporting was introduced, half of the companies who filed figures had managed to narrow their gender pay gap. Hold establishments to account and results will follow.
  • Review of policies and practices: identification of actions to address any issues highlighted.  Strong and continued assessment of the data to review and amend policies needs to be regularly undertaken. If results are not being seen – where and why are the policies not working? Driving diversity in HE requires encouraging diverse staff into the sector. All too often job descriptions and adverts request experience in working within HE – excluding a huge proportion of possibly otherwise qualified staff. Equally, placing those adverts in places these candidates are unlikely to access is counterproductive. As mentioned below, Bristol University is working with external agencies to target Black, Asian and minority ethnic groups for recruitment purposes. If the existing policies are not working, they need to be reviewed and adapted.
  • Positive action initiatives: positive action is the deliberate introduction of ways to eliminate or reduce discrimination. It is about encouraging people from under-represented groups to engage and increase retention and promotion. While this includes strategic placement of job adverts as mentioned above it also should include increased opportunities for networking, mentoring, sponsorship and internships. For example, the work of the University of Manchester as part of their equality in employment drive has included promotion workshops for under-represented BME and female staff, using positive action statements on recruitment adverts and running specific mentoring programmes for under-represented groups.

Results from the case study on LSBU show that they have successfully implemented many of these processes to close both the ethnicity pay gap and the lack of Black staff within their organisation – proof that implementing a series of positive actions can make a significant difference.

Equally, Warwick has above sector average Black, Asian and minority ethnic staff but they admit there is still a way to go in terms of recruitment of these. The university is working hard to increase the diversity of staff and students – being identified as one of three key strategic priorities in its Social Inclusion Strategy published in April 2019.

But it is also patently clear from the data and the results from the reports mentioned above that still not enough is being done across the board to address the issues of a lack of Black staff and the ethnicity pay gap with HEIs across the UK.

In “Being Black in a White World: Understanding Racism in British Universities”, published in 2017, the findings point to the need for HEIs to provide clear access paths for progression for Black, Asian and minority ethnic staff. But three years on little has changed.

It is reported that there has been an 18% increase in British companies publishing their ethnicity pay gap reports although this still only amounts to 40% of all companies. How many HEIs publish their data is unclear but a quick search across many of the top UK universities reveals that many have no mention of ethnicity pay gap data.22

Bristol University published its first ethnicity pay gap report in 2020. Within it they report that they are not only actively tackling the pay gap but also the representation of Black, Asian and minority ethnic staff within the university. The actions being taken include working collaboratively with leaders of public sector agencies, targeting local Black, Asian and minority ethnic communities and groups, building ethnic diversity throughout their talent pipeline and exploring the development of targeted programmes to enhance and extend the leadership potential of existing Black, Asian and minority ethnic staff. They report a significant ethnicity pay gap and while there is as yet no data on how these measures are working, initiatives like this need to be nationwide.23

While the recommendations around policy, data, training and pay are commendable there is a further issue at play. White leaders need to address not only the policies but also the way they approach these changes and the way they personally think about diversity within their organisation.

A sea change in attitude is required to make these policies as effective as they can be and until this is done the introduction of all the points mentioned will have minimal impact. Two areas need highlighting.

Firstly, White privilege, systemic racism, White fragility and allyship – training and the realisation of these issues requires highlighting and discussing. In “Dismantling Race in Higher Education” it is noted that “The greatest barrier to addressing race equality in higher education is academia’s refusal to regard race as a legitimate object of scrutiny, either in scholarship or policy.24

Emphasis needs to be placed on training leadership and teaching skills development, and on addressing how White privilege is explored and how are staff are equipped to discuss issues of race or challenge racist behaviour.

Universities UK, following on from their report on racial harassment in HE have recommended that all HEIs conduct training that incorporates the concepts of White privilege, White fragility, White allyship and microaggressions to highlight everybody’s responsibility to tackle racial harassment. Their recommendation calls on HEIs to ““Increase staff and students’ understanding of racism, racial harassment and microaggressions and white privilege, through training that is developed from an anti-racist perspective. This should go beyond unconscious bias training.

As a case in point, UCL, within their “Advancing Race Equality Toolkit”, offers a range of resources that address White privilege including their “Inclusive Advocate” programme whereby staff are encouraged “to better reflect on how white privilege can operate in the university context.25

Secondly, Don’t make or force your Black or other ethnic minority staff to do all the work to fix your diversity issue: care must be taken to ensure that the ‘leg work’ that needs to be done in identifying practices and improvements that need to be made doesn’t fall solely on the shoulders of non-white staff.  All too often Black staff are tasked with ‘finding solutions’, ‘identifying problems’ and reporting on racial issues – during work time but also as unpaid work. There needs to be collective responsibility taken for any of these policies to be fully effective. Part of this lies in the training of white privilege and allyship, as mentioned above, but it is clear that all stakeholders need to engage from the most junior level to the most senior whether Black or not.

13. Conclusions

It is clear that standard reporting, data collation, policy reviews, and positive action initiatives are not yet in place across the HE network in the UK. More must be done to quickly bring these in line with gender reporting in order for the HE sector in the UK to prove that they are collectively tackling the very real and proven issue of employment and pay gap issues for Black employees. But these alone cannot drive the change required. There has to be true acknowledgment and engagement by leaders and stakeholders.

Much has been discussed of White fragility –feelings of discomfort a White person experiences when they witness or partake in discussions around racial inequality and injustice. White fragility leads to barriers being drawn between White and Black colleagues and stakeholders, and stifles meaningful and progressive discussions. By disregarding the notions of White privilege, racism will continue to hold its place in society and White fragility will foster this. While the recommendations discussed in this paper are essential for driving diversity in HE, the acceptance and overcoming of White fragility is equally vital for these recommendations to drive change.

Research has shown that without explicitly addressing racism, progressive organisations may be limited in their ability to challenge internal racism. White, male leaders often fail to acknowledge their own privilege, insisting that they and their organizations are gender- and colour-blind. Allyship is a strategy used by individuals to become collaborators, accomplices, and co-conspirators who promote equality – it requires White leaders to recognise and accept the advantages they hold and that there is racism within the organisations they head up. Only once allyship is established can true progress be made.

Across the world, the #MeToo and BLM movements have forced those in power to stand up and take note. While diversity was being discussed before these movements coming to the fore, scant progress had been made – these movements have forced HE across the UK to reassess and strengthen their commitment to diversity both among students and staff. Still, there is work to be done.

Higher education holds a unique position, bridging the gap between students and the employed and as such they have a responsibility to ensure that their organisations are well placed to support all their students, across all ethnicities. At present Black students and employees are negatively impacted and work needs to continue to close the gaps. Ensuring employment within HEIs is diverse will drive engagement among the student population and create a pool of better qualified and prepared prospective staff.


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  11. Black Women Administrators in Higher Education: An Endangered Species. Mosley, Myrtis Hall, Journal of Black Studies, v10 n3 p295-310 Mar 1980.
  12. Staying Power The career experiences and strategies of UK Black female professors (2019), Nicola Rollock,
  13. National Center for Education Statistics (2018),
  14. Who Holds Professional Positions in Higher Ed, and Who Gets Paid? (2020),
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  18. Tackling racial harassment: universities challenged, (2019),
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  20. Exploring the retention and attainment of Black and minority ethnic (BME) students on Social Policy pathways in higher education,$FILE/Exploring_retention_and_attainment_of_BME_Students_Nicki_Senior.pdf
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  23. University of Bristol, Gender and Ethnicity Pay Gap 2020,
  24. Dismantling race In higher education: Racism, whiteness and decolonising the academy (2018), edited by Jason Arday and Heidi Safia Mirza,
  25. UCL Advancing Race Equality Toolkit,
  26. Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic student attainment at UK universities: #closingthegap Report,
  27. Pay figures show 50% of employers have narrowed gender gap –

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