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Phenomenal Women: Portraits of Black Female Professors at the University


Two black female professors from the University of Bradford are among 40 phenomenal women celebrated in the first photographic exhibition to honour the presence of black women in British academia

The University of Bradford is celebrating the inclusion of two of its professors in a new photographic exhibition to highlight the presence and excellence of all the women included and provide a platform for debate about what it takes to reach this highest level of academic scholarship by female black and minority ethnic academics.

Phenomenal Women: Portraits of UK Black Female Professors showcases 40 black female professors who are either working now or have worked in the last three years across the UK - and two from that list currently work in Bradford.

There are 19,285 professors in UK universities. Fewer than one per cent of professors in the UK are black despite increases in overall levels of academic staff. Black women are three times less likely to be professors than their white female counterparts and represent the smallest group (0.27 per cent) of professors in UK universities.

Professors Uduak Archibong and Engobo Emesh spoke about their inclusion in the exhibition and its broader significance.

Uduak Archibong MBE is Professor of Diversity in the Faculty of Health Studies, Director of the Centre for Inclusion and Diversity and provides strategic oversight for equality, diversity and inclusion across the institution.

Professor Archibong is a foremost authority and leader on inclusion and diversity. She is currently setting the agenda to drive research, learning and knowledge exchange in enhancing workforce diversity and inclusive service delivery. Her work is having a major impact locally, nationally and globally. The body of her research has provided the evidence base for, and a robust understanding of, the development and application of cultural solutions and diversity interventions in public, private and third sector organisations. She is Fellow of the West African College of Nursing and Fellow of the Royal College of Nursing and was made a Member of the Order of the British Empire (MBE) in the 2015 Queen’s New Year’s Honours List for her services to higher education and equality. 

Engobo Emeseh is Professor of Law and Head of the School of Law in the Faculty of Management, Law & Social Sciences. An expert in environmental law and policy, with particular focus on regulation and governance in the extractives sector, Professor Emeseh is a leading voice for change and environmental justice, working with civil society groups, intergovernmental organisations and national governments. She is a member of the Bayelsa State of Nigeria Oil and Environment Commission, tasked with the responsibility of developing a set of informed recommendations that lead to the development of a new legal framework that ensures accountability for the negative impacts of the oil and gas industry in the state.

Professor Emeseh said: “We have very few black women professors in the UK and to have two out of the 40 on this list at Bradford is something to be celebrated and speaks to our status as a university, which prides itself on inclusion. I also hope it proves motivational for students who come from backgrounds not necessarily too dissimilar to ours.

“While I am proud of each and every one of these women, it is a reminder of how far the journey has been to get to where we ought to be. There is almost a sense that this shouldn’t be a news item in 2020, that we should have already gone much further ahead.”

Professor Archibong said: “The Phenomenal Women exhibition showcases the hard work, resilience and success of black female professors in the UK. People will look at this and see hope. It is about changing perceptions of what a professor looks like and creating role models for future generations. In addition, it highlights the intersectionality of race and gender.

“There is a feeling that we have been in this struggle for a long time and while the numbers are increasing, we need to ask why the journey is so slow and how we can agitate the system to make it quicker. But this is a step in the right direction.”

The University of Bradford has a systematic approach through which equality, diversity and inclusion is embedded in its culture, strategies, policies and practices. It was named as the UK’s University of the Year for Social Inclusion 2020 by The Times and Sunday Times.

Phenomenal Women: Portraits of UK Black Female Professors builds on research carried out by Dr Nicola Rollock, examining the career experiences and strategies of black female professors. Published early 2019, the research reveals the barriers faced by the women as they worked to navigate their way through higher education and the strategies they used to help them reach professorship. Nicola commissioned photographer Bill Knight to take portraits of each of the UK’s Black female professors.