A design engineer at the University of Leeds is the latest academic to join a small but growing cohort of Black women professors.
Lisa-Dionne Morris, from the School of Mechanical Engineering, became the UK's 41st Black woman to be awarded a professorship after what she describes as a "once in a lifetime opportunity".
After 16 years of service, Professor Morris joined the 100 Black Women Professors Now! initiative, which aims to increase the number of Black women in top academic positions.
The programme launched in 2021, when only 35 of 22,000 professors in the UK were Black women. Professor Morris, a proud Yorkshirewoman of the African diaspora, recently took on the role of Professor of Public and Industry Understanding of Capability Driven Design, bringing the total to 41.
She said: “I started to understand the lived situation and experience of a female of the African diaspora in a UK higher education institution. I wasn’t the only one facing barriers in my career progression to the professorial level. I knew I had to make time for this opportunity.”
Run by the Women’s Higher Education Network (WHEN), the initiative supported Professor Morris to appreciate and communicate the value of her experience.
Professor Morris said: “The old vision of the academic has its merits, but there is a new, different, exciting classification of the academic joining us. They may come from a different pathway, but their experience, expertise and professionalism are just as valuable in a University setting.”
The programme aims to support participants to navigate and manage their careers, as well as challenging assumptions and bias in higher education.
WHEN matched Professor Morris with a mentor – Marshah Dixon-Terry, Executive Career Coach – who helped her recognise her worth, in academia and her own home.
Caring colleagues within the University have also been sources of support. Professor Morris added: “Any time there’s been a barrier, I’ve always leant into a solution and there’s always been somebody at the University to help in that solution space.”
Professor Morris also used the Staff Counselling Service at the University to help her through some difficult times. She said: “Without the help of those individuals, my mental health would be in a very different place now.”
She continued: “I see the University of Leeds as a family. What you need in a family like ours is to be aware of cultural sensitivities, notice how people are feeling and ask if they’re alright. Having a strong principle of duty of care is so important.”
When Professor Morris discovered her promotion application was successful, the first thing she did was call her family and tell them: “You’re now speaking to Professor Morris!”
Reflecting on the experience, she said: “You look around and you know in your heart it was all worth it. That was the sense of wellbeing I had when I found out I was going to be a Professor.”
Contact Mia Saunders in the University of Leeds Press Office via firstname.lastname@example.org with media enquiries.