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I thought I had as much chance as my peers, until I experienced the leaky pipeline.

I never realised how diversity and representation will change the course of my career. As an undergrad at a university with a very international student body, you see a lot of diversity. You study alongside people from all types of educational, ethnic and cultural backgrounds, with different religious beliefs and first languages. You feel represented. You feel like you all have a shot at a successful career, despite your starting point. This was how I felt at a multicultural university after moving from a city that lacked it.

This diversity (or lack of), however didn’t transcend into the senior academic body. There was no one that represented me and my background – a female, Bengali, hijabi. As someone from a city where the dominant race was white, I didn’t realise that I was within my rights to expect representation from the faculty and system that will be setting me up for a successful (or unsuccessful) career. I didn’t realise there was a ‘Leaky Academic Pipeline’

Although, it may appear like academia has diversity and equality, there is an obvious lack of it at the top of the ladder. In my Masters program at a London university, I did notice more lecturers and professors that better represented the diverse student body – more were Asian and female – however, there was a trend of no black (male or female), and no (visibly) Muslim senior academics in my department. I knew it was not because they weren’t smart or ambitious enough – it was systemic racism, unconscious biases and white privilege that resulted in this.

I began to wonder whether there was a place for me in academia. The further along the pipeline I progressed, I experienced more injustices. The catalytic event that confronted my disadvantages, identity, and ambitions, which changed my career direction, was at a PhD careers event. I listened to a keynote speaker, who was a veteran and a key decision maker in the field, say that ‘only those who commit 14 hours a day in the lab 7 days a week, and move to USA/Europe to do a post-doc, and do not take a career break’, will secure that all-important research funding and tenure that academics survive and flourish on. I realised that he wasn’t describing someone like me – someone who has religious and family commitments, culture and lifestyle choices, and financial restrictions that will not allow me to dedicate my entire life to my research to become a professor. He was describing that intersectionality exists and no matter how many sacrifices are made, without the right opportunities and unearned advantages, you have a slim chance of success.

This should not have been such a shock as the statistics already show this, but I never had it spoken out to me and applauded. Looking around, I noticed that the seniors in my department were all white, despite the PhD students being diverse. This wasn’t a shock, but what was shocking was learning that only a minority of PhD students funded by UK research councils are non-white. After my PhD, I left academia, as a disproportionate number of women and BAME do. I joined that statistic. Infuriatingly, while many academics pride themselves in diversity and equity, most fail to engage in meaningful discussions that challenge the broken system, which perpetuates this leaky pipeline. Something must change, and it starts with us.

I challenge everyone to recognise their identities and privileges, and then do something about it. Diversify the people, experiences and content around you. Challenge your assumptions. Address your unconscious biases. Get educated. Fight injustice. It is everyone’s responsibility.

 

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We do not provide professional help to individuals in urgent crisis. If you are experiencing a mental health emergency, please call 999 immediately. For support with suicidal thoughts, consider contacting the Samaritans UK, a trusted organisation specialising in confidential assistance during emotional distress. Your safety is paramount and there are professionals available to provide the urgent help required in such critical situations.
We do not provide professional help to individuals in urgent crisis. If you are experiencing a mental health emergency, please call 999 immediately. For support with suicidal thoughts, consider contacting the Samaritans UK, a trusted organisation specialising in confidential assistance during emotional distress. Your safety is paramount and there are professionals available to provide the urgent help required in such critical situations.