Inspirational Professor launches Black Female Academics' Network

Professor Lisa-Dionne Morris, who is one of only 61 Black Women Professors in the UK, has launched a global network aimed at supporting and upskilling other Black female academics.

Professor Lisa-Dionne Morris

Lisa-Dionne, from the School of Mechanical Engineering, hopes the support provided by the Black Female Academics’ Network (BFAN), will stretch far beyond Leeds and across the world.

It was connecting with those colleagues across the University and other UK Higher Education institutions through the 100 Black Women Professors Now! programme that inspired Lisa-Dionne to want to provide similar support to all Black women working in the field.

Lisa-Dionne said: “The purpose of BFAN is for us to make connections so we can further our research within the research community and train and develop as Black females – and I say Black in terms of the collective of African, African Diaspora and Dual-Heritage females – for the purpose of ensuring we’re visible within academia and industry.

“I want for us to actually be a collective: more than just individuals occupying a space.”

Reflecting on her time with the programme, she added: “I discovered talent and prolific Black females at the University of Leeds whom I had never met in 16 years of working here. I thought I was the only one.

“In terms of the Black female, it does need a dedicated network to allow this to happen, which involves not just people gathering but a way of facilitating and upskilling to make us ready for when we take those titles and prepare for the next platform.”

Lisa-Dionne has worked in the School of Mechanical Engineering for 18 years and is currently Professor of Public and Industry Understanding of Capability Driven Design and a member of the Institute of Design Robotics and Optimisation. She also has a parallel career in industry as a design strategist, executive consultant and leading various national and international strategic boards.

Lisa-Dionne was promoted to Professor last year after joining the 100 Black Women Professors Now! programme – a pioneering systemic change initiative set up in 2001 to increase the number of Black women in the academic pipeline. 

The programme, run by the Women’s Higher Education Network (WHEN), aims to support participants to navigate and manage their careers, as well as challenging institutional assumptions and bias.

When Lisa-Dionne first heard about the scheme, she was shocked to discover only 35 of the 22,000 professors in the UK at the time were Black women. There are now 61. Although this shows progress, it clearly highlights the ongoing absence of Black female professors.

There are 13 women from the University of Leeds on the 100 BWPN programme this academic year: seven staff members and six postgraduate students.

Lisa-Dionne said: “I look forward to the day when we don’t need to count the number of Black female professors anymore… when these statistics will be irrelevant in relation to our progress.

“I’m not interested in the past: I’m focused on a vision of where our academics from the global majority and the global minority are heading.”

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