Allyship and the professional impact on black women’s career progression in education

According to Singh and Kwhali (2015), the term ‘BAME’, also known as ‘visible minority’, is broadly documented as referring to black, Asian and minority ethnic groups. Generally, the term is used to address the diversity and multiculturality in a group of people in order to identify marginalisation and segregation patterns. An ally is ‘any person that actively promotes and aspires to advance the culture of inclusion through intentional, positive and conscious efforts that benefit people as a whole.’ (Russ, 2019, p. 2) and BAME allyship involves ‘appreciating the diverse cultural and social values across the BAME community and demonstrating a willingness to listen to diverse voices from that community.’ (Russ, 2019, p. 11)

Relatedly, the term ‘ethnicity’ is ‘generally used to characterise differences in cultural values, faiths, and traditions among groups from distinct geographical and/or national origins who may also differ in phenotypical features.’ (Bhavnani et al., 2005, p. 213) The term ‘ethnicity ally’ was revealed to me for the first time in 2017, when a teacher informed me about the positive achievement of one of her former students under the excellent allyship initiative developed by Sarah Garrett MBE, founder and CEO of SPM Group in the UK. A report developed by SPM Group identifies how ‘lack of transparency, lack of measurement, non-existent relationship-building between BAME communities and organisations and recruiting pipelines of various models can be quite insular’ and there is a need to tackle this (Garrett, 2017, p. 5). Similarly, British academic and Professor Heidi Mirza, describes the importance of promoting diverse recruitment to promote equity in educational settings (Mirza, 2006, 2009).

Black women are underrepresented in school headships in the UK. According to the DfE (2020), 92.9 per cent of headteachers are from white British backgrounds while less than 0.4 per cent are black females, with most of these working in primary schools. In higher education – black females have less than a one per cent chance of having a black female professor as their academic role model (Rollock, 2020). Black women are actively involved in addressing these issues, for example, through BAMEed, a charity promoting equality for all within the education arena, co-founded by Alana Gay, a North London headteacher (BAMEed, 2020).

Enabling women to progress into leadership positions is one way of promoting equality and diversity under the UK national government regulations such as the Equality Act 2010 and the diversity and inclusion strategy 2018–2025. According to Fuller (2012), the moral imperative that drives school leadership is seeking social justice by ensuring that learners are given equal opportunity to succeed. Denying black women the chance of leadership could lower the confidence of black girls, as they might also see themselves as incapable of leading. Research carried out by Fuller (2009) indicated that school headteachers in the Midlands worked simultaneously with management systems to ensure the promotion of people-orientated values. The findings of this study also indicated that women leaders supported approaches that embraced diversity (Fuller, 2009). Therefore, black female headteachers could play a role in preventing the bias and prejudice that they may have been subjected to in their everyday lives. Additionally, involving black women in leadership could help in embracing race and gender equality and diversity, in order to mitigate stereotypes and discrimination related to misconceptions and judgments associated with black women’s sense of inferiority and intellectually inefficiency (Bruce-Golding, 2019).

In the current climate, ‘ethnicity allies’ could potentially support non-white professionals to climb the ladder towards leadership positions in schools and universities. This can be achieved by following by three distinct approaches: fostering a culture of dialogue, where students, parents, teachers and academic staff, local communities and other stakeholders are involved, creating a dynamic of change within teaching spaces and assessing and re-evaluating career progression and the school’s activities and policies (Garrett, 2017).


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Mirza, H.S., (2013) ‘A Second Skin’: Embodied Intersectionality, Transnationalism and Narratives of Identity and Belonging among Muslim Women in Britain. Women’s Studies International Forum 36: 5–16.

Rollock N (2020) Phenomenal Women: Portraits of UK Black Female Professors. Available at: (accessed 21 December 2020).

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Singh G, Kwhali J (2015) How Can We Make not Break Black and Minority Ethnic Leaders in Higher Education. London: The leadership Foundation.




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