The Exchange Blog

News and updates from the Teaching, Learning and Employability Exchange at University of the Arts London

AttainmentCareers & EmployabilityEventsNewsStudent Engagement

Showcasing Women+ In Leadership

Image credit: Nia Hefe Filiogianni

Following an invitation to speak at the recent Universities UK Closing Ethnicity Awarding Gaps conference, Tessa Read and Sat Sehmbey (Careers and Employability) presented the Women+ of Colour in Leadership project as part of a panel discussion on supporting female students and staff of colour.

The presentation began with a discussion on why the project was initiated. Tessa explained that the team took a data led approach, looking at the statistics regarding intersectional discrimination and the double barrier of the gender glass ceiling and racial discrimination.

Key industry data indicate that:

  • Black women are the least likely group to hold executive or non-executive directorship positions (The Gender and Race Benchmark, 2014)
  • 12% of women of colour working in adland are in senior roles, with that figure dropping to 6% when it comes to black women. This means that white men are almost three times as likely to be in a senior position as women of colour, and almost six times as likely as black women (Creative Equals, 2020).

The rationale for the programme was also informed by UAL data that highlights differentials in graduate level employment for BAME females. 

At this point in the discussion, it was acknowledged that some of the terminology used, such as Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic (BAME), is contested and reductive and may be offensive to some people. Yet these terms are unfortunately still currently widely used in the Equality, Diversity and Inclusivity (EDI) world and across sectors for benchmarking, with no consensus view on alternative terminology.

The Women+ of Colour in Leadership (W+inL) programme is an example of positive action which forms part of a growing commitment at UAL to support ethnicity targeted positive actions throughout the whole student journey. This commitment is written in the Access and Participation Plan and UAL’s Anti-Racism Action Plan  – which states the need to increase the visibility of BAME student communities and people.

This represents a turning point for the University as, alike to the wider HE sector, there often exists a hesitancy to employ positive action measures as people confuse positive discrimination with equitable solutions to address disadvantage.

Sat explained the design of the programme, involving 15 students from across UAL who identified as women+ of colour. The programme is framed around a live brief set by an industry partner. A leadership coach supports the students through weekly workshops. The programme is also supported by student ambassadors who took part in last year’s programme, along with the Careers and Employability’s Creative Shift team.

Through the programme dominant narratives of leadership are examined and stereotypes challenged. Students are given the opportunity to bring to the fore their existing leadership qualities and potential in an authentic way. 

This learning journey was underpinned by the following pedagogical approaches:

Communities of practice

The heart of the programme is centred around, ‘Communities of Practice – ‘groups of people who share a concern or a passion for something they do and learn how to do it better as they interact regularly’ (Wenger, B & Wenger, E, 2015). 

By creating a safe space in this program, participants were able to be part of a community that shared the same concerns and passions around W+inL. Through valuable discussions and activities, strong bonds and lifelong friendships were built.

Building trust and harmony

The session The Leader Within run by Jannett Morgan recognises that all the participants come with strong assets, which means they already have entrepreneurial skills, life experience and communication and team working skills. Through the weekly meet ups students are given the opportunity to leverage these assets and explore their innate leadership skills.

Collective leadership

By embracing the Ubuntu Philosophy there is a recognition of the merits of building networks, and mutually supportive relationships. Ubuntu can be understood as: ‘envelops the key values of group solidarity, compassion, respect, human dignity, conformity to basic norms and collective unity’ (Himonga, et al. 2013).

During the programme participants show strong signs of the Ubuntu philosophy through inspiring and motivating each other in their respective teams to achieve a positive outcome.


This is supported by feedforward – a concept developed by Marshall Goldsmith and Jon Katzenbach which is literally the reverse of feedback. Feedforward replaces positive or negative feedback with future oriented solutions.

Instead of focusing on things that could have been taken personally or perceived as negative or off-putting during the feedback process, feedforward is more proactive, more objective and positive, which affirms the learning experiences.


At the end of the presentation, Sat and Tessa shared with the audience some quotes from the project:

It is a testament to how important it is to tackle issues such as gender inequality at leadership positions through empowering the next generation

Women+ in Leadership participant

Each week, we watched them grow in confidence and stature as women leaders. Stepping out of their comfort zone to participate in leadership activities, remaining positive in the face of setbacks beyond their control. 

Jannett Morgan, Leadership Coach

Being able to collaborate with UAL Careers and Employability and offer female students a dedicated programme working on a live brief, with leadership coaching, interactive workshops, support and touch points with Raconteur staff throughout proved to be invaluable.  

Sagina Shabaya, Head of Talent & Inclusion, Raconteur

Read more about the project, Creative Shift and Careers and Employability at UAL

If you have any questions you can contact Sat and Tessa via

2 thoughts on “Showcasing Women+ In Leadership

  • Ruhee Zangie

    I’m sorry as a “brown” person, I get really cross with being called a person of colour!!

    Is white not a colour??

    Please can someone explain to me the difference between being coloured and being a person of colour!

    Are they both not the same thing????

    I await to hear from you.

    • Hi Ruhee,

      Thanks for taking the time to get in touch and feed back. We agree that the term ‘of colour’ is problematic and understand your feelings about it. The post itself acknowledges that a lot of the language in this area is “contested, reductive, and may be offensive to some people” whilst also being widespread in Equality, Diversity and Inclusivity (EDI) work.

      When talking about a specific person we’d refer to their individual identity. However, there’s currently a lack of consensus about an alternative, broad term to encompass many identities. If you have any suggestions or preferences please do let us know? We can add them to the mix and consider them going forward.


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *