Inclusivity lies at the heart of the AFN Network+. We want to ensure everyone feels welcome and valued, and we actively pursue diversity within our Community of Practice. During Black History Month, we want to raise awareness of the experience of those of black heritage within the agri-food system. In this blog post, Professor Angelina Sanderson Bellamy, one of the co-Leads of the AFN Network+, shares her experience and the need to include a wide range of voices at the table.
This blog comes to you in recognition of Black History Month, a really important dynamic to recognise. I’m a black female academic and I’ve been asked on several occasions what it’s like to be a black woman within academia.
It’s a difficult question to answer because I only have my own experience to which I can relate. However, what I can say is that even from my earliest school years, from reception upward, I never once had a black teacher. At university, I never had a black professor. I never had a black mentor; someone who I could look up to and see as an example of what I could achieve as a black person. On entering academia, I had no black colleagues. I didn’t
collaborate with any black academics in other universities because there are so few black academics within academia.
It wasn’t until I started working at UWE Bristol two years ago that I finally had other black colleagues. The impact for me has been quite important. I've found I am no longer the only individual within the department who is looked to, to carry the EDI flag. I have other colleagues who have been working really, really hard around the challenge of increasing representation within academia. I no longer have to carry that burden alone. Instead of pushing the boulder by myself up the hill, I can get behind them and help them push the boulder, that they’ve already been pushing for years before I arrived, and that’s a significant relief for me.
It’s really important to think about how I can support younger black academics to keep them within academia and increase the number of black professors. It’s so important to be able to have role models, to see what is possible as a black person. And as a black woman, because there is intersectionality, and there are times in my life where I can tell you that as a woman it’s been really challenging to remain within academia.
This was especially true during the period following my extensive maternity leave. I lived in Sweden for 12 years and I had three children while living there. Sweden has an amazing parental leave policy, but the flip side of that of course is that after taking so much parental leave, I found it really difficult trying to get my next post. This was a few years after achieving my PhD and my first postdoctoral position which was a fellowship. You can’t take five years maternity leave without it having an impact on your career!
That was a significant hurdle to overcome.
So I speak not just as a black person but as a black woman. I was recently promoted to professor, making me one of 61 black female professors in the UK. There are almost 23,000 professors in the UK, and only 61 black female professors.
No wonder I haven’t met any before, because there are so few. Working within the food system, I again looked around, and I saw very little diversity. Of course, the food system is very broad, but one sector with a glaring lack of diversity is agriculture. Have you seen any black female farmers, ‘cause I sure haven’t.
There are so few black farmers out there and when you don’t see that representation you don’t see that it’s a possibility. Or if it is something you want to do, then it is difficult to see past the barriers to overcome. We have a few black farmers who are putting themselves out there, speaking out and supporting other minority ethnicities to enter into agriculture. But they are so few, compared to the thousands of farmers working in agriculture.
Building a diverse and inclusive network is one of the things that’s so important to me; we need that representation because we need to make sure that we're including as wide a range of perspectives as possible. That's what it will take to address the challenge of achieving net zero through the food system.
It's the challenge that will define this generation, and if we're not bringing in all the range of perspectives that exist in terms of what is possible then we're missing pieces of that puzzle.
I call upon you all to continue to work to build diversity within the Agri-food for Net Zero Network + Community of Practice. Diversity is really important; everyone in the room should feel comfortable being in that space and it means that we can bring more ideas to the table and more understanding of the challenges. We experience these challenges differently so if you're out there and these are issues that are important to you: food, climate change and biodiversity and finding pathways forward to reconcile these different challenges, then we want you to be a part of our Community of Practice.
We want you to come around the table to discuss the challenges with us and help us figure out a better way forward.
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UK Research has funded this Network+ with the support of these 4 councils:
The Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC)
Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC)
Natural Environment Research Council (NERC)
Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC)