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De Montfort University: Black Women's Academic Development Programme (BWADP)

Initiative institution
De Montfort University
Application type
Race Equality Charter
Publication date

Institution and Department: De Montfort University
Author: Kaushika Patel


Promotions data for 2019-2021 demonstrated that of all Black female applicants who applied for promotion to Associate Professor and Professor none were successful (UK only). To support future success for Black women academics DMU developed and piloted a co-created Black Women’s academic development programme. The programme has recently completed its pilot year and is being evaluated to determine next steps.

About your organisation

DMU is a global and diverse institution with over 27,000 students and 2,800 staff. We deliver a multi-disciplinary curriculum across four faculties, Business and Law (BAL), Health and Life Sciences (HLS), Arts, Design and Humanities (ADH), and Computing, Engineering and Media (CEM). Just over 30% of our staff body and just over 50% of our student body identify as Black, Asian or ethnically minoritised. We were the first university to be receive a Silver for the REC which was awarded in 2023.

Purpose of the initiative

The purpose of the programme was to create a development programme tailored for and by Black Women to enable success at internal promotions opportunities, this was a direct response to the data that was identified in the 2019-2021 promotions outcomes. 

The key element the programme aimed to ensure was that the lived experiences of Black Women academics were considered, and that it was co-created with participants to ensure barriers to taking part are removed and issues impacting them are highlighted and addressed. 

The programme aimed to ensure participants’ personal commitments were considered in relation to the scheduling of the programme, wherever possible. A variety of learning approaches were utilised during the programme to ensure learning styles were considered and tailored to the specific needs of the cohort and programme. 

The programme’s aim was to not standardise development support into a mass delivery programme.

Description of the initiative

The Black Women’s Academic Development Programme (BWADP) commenced in March 2022 and ended in July 2023. It aimed to develop realistic but ambitious career goals and steps required to achieve these, including career narrative and professional brand. 10 women were enrolled, who had co-created the programme, including workshops to identify requirements, confidence building, CV support and access to mentors and/or coaches. The programme was evaluated before, during and will also again be evaluated a year after to identify impact. 

The women who were enrolled as the pilot cohort were those who had applied to be the DMU nominees for the first WHEN 100 Black Women Professors Now cohort. 14 women applied for that, 3 were successful and 10 of the remaining 11 chose to enrol on the BWADP.

They were involved from the beginning in determining their needs to enable success in promotions exercises and these needs formed the basis of monthly sessions. The programme was facilitated by the then Deputy PVC EDI and EDI Exec Officer and staff Learning and Development Consultant. External speakers were brought in for some sessions to ensure appropriate expertise was utilised for specialist sessions. 

The women were encouraged to develop an active action learning group and develop a series of resources that they shared with each other; a platform was established for this to happen. As this was a co-created pilot, we reviewed future sessions after each completed session to determine if we needed to tweak anything dependent on what awareness was raised or skills/knowledge gaps identified.


As the data and evidence from Nicola Rollock’s work “Staying Power” (2019) showed that it was particularly Black women who were not finding success in promotions exercises, we felt it appropriate to develop a programme specific to the needs of Black Women. We then also decided it was not for us to determine those needs, which is why we went for a fully co-created programme, which started with a scoping pre-session and regular re-evaluation of whether we were hitting the mark or not.


The aim of the programme was to ensure the women had everything they needed to complete application forms, ensure their brand was correctly built for their career trajectory and they had all of the strategic and institutional information needed. It also helped them to see and map the gaps in their profile which did not fit the promotions criteria and so provided them with the knowledge around how to fill the gaps. 

“It was a very relevant session as it gave me a better understanding of the career progression dynamics within DMU which was not clear to me before this session” (Feedback D1)

 “How to position ourselves within academia and beyond” (Feedback D2) 

“The pathways to progression were made clearer. More importantly, there where insights on how we can create opportunities for ourselves to accelerate our progression” (Feedback D3)

The success markers and outcomes are increased numbers of Black Women being successful in promotion applications and in this case that is specifically the programme delegates. We won’t know this until future promotions rounds. However other success markers included the women having a better understanding of the criteria and process and how to determine the skills needed to write the application or determine their gaps and work to filling them. Feedback from the women showed they felt the programme had achieved that. Evaluations were provided after each session. 

“I loved the opportunity of hearing about a senior colleague’s journey to attaining her career goals even though she was from another university. It helped me to understand how to address similar challenges that I might face as well as how not to lose my identity in the process.” “I loved the tips that were shared during the session on how best to handle difficult situations within my workplace” (Feedback D1) 

“Recognising the difference between imposter syndrome and imposter thoughts. Useful tools to be used to overcome these issues” “The importance of external connections and volunteering to external association to increase our impacts. Understanding the political landscape of academia to navigate with confidence” “How to ground ourselves while we are on the journey of leadership development. How to tap into our support system.” (Feedback D2) 

“I was able to identify how to make a mentoring relationship productive. It was very useful and engaging session.” “It was an eye-opening session and the realisation that imposter syndrome is here to stay and is experienced by those we see as confident and successful. The key thing is management” “I understand the importance of collaboration and networks. However, I believe this has to come from me and I need to find those productive networks that can lead to fruitful collaborations especially in terms of research.” (Feedback D3)

Key barriers and facilitators

Barriers included: 

  • Staff workload and clashing of teaching or research commitments
  • Having a pilot status at times meant the delegates did not always prioritise the programme or their managers did not always release them as needed
  • Being fully co-created meant we changed sessions which at times created delays or cancellation as we tried to find appropriate facilitators
  • Funding limitations for a wider range of speakers
  • As a pilot programme organisational development input was at times limited due to either the programme having been set up from within the EDI function or because the culturally appropriate services, e.g., mentors/sponsors, were not easily available internally and external ones required additional funds 


  • VC endorsement was extremely useful but clearly, as per the barriers listed, did not always open all of the doors needed
  • Co-creation meant that the programme was actually facilitated by the women as well
  • The excellent engagement and support of women both within DMU and outside of it, in particular WHEN and the Senior Women of Colour network

The future?

A full evaluation of the programme is currently underway and on completion the university will determine its next steps for future programmes and their construct. To enable continuation, funds may be required if external facilitators and sponsors are to be provided and if that is not possible then a slightly amended version could still be established. 

The key element of learning was to build a resource platform, for similar types of programmes, by the delegates for the delegates then and across future iterations This also provided a network for these women which will be added to from future iterations of the programme. 

In addition, a fully co-created model was an excellent model. It was particularly challenging for logistics but the outcomes around enjoyment and learning were excellent.

Advice for other members

Ensure the data demonstrates what the actual need is. Scope out the need in a little more detail and wherever possible determine evidence so that an evidence-based or what-works approach is undertaken. This is of particular use if lobbying senior leaders for funds. 

Create a very clear proposal for the initiative to start with and build on that with a network of colleagues if possible. 

Ensure senior team buy in but also ensure that the correct departmental leaders are aware of and fully understand the initiative and their part in it and provide them with regular updates.

For sessions always try to have a back-up plan for when things go wrong and back up staff in case people are off sick etc., to ensure there are no single points of failure. This is particularly important as EDI initiatives are often viewed from a different perspective as outputs/outcomes are either less tangible or take longer to transpire and so any failure points can offer an opportunity to reduce or withdraw support/funding.

Advance HE shares a range of practice and approaches to charters awards. Case studies/example applications illustrate one approach to race/gender equality work but there are a variety of successful approaches and we recommend charter members consider their local evidence-base and context when deciding how to advance equality in their setting.