There are more than 19,000 professors in the UK. Black women represent the smallest group when both gender and race are considered together. The last official statistics show there were just 35 Black female professors working in UK universities.

White women are around three times more likely to be professors compared to Black women and Black men are around twice as likely to be professors compared with their Black female colleagues.

Phenomenal Women: Portraits of UK Black Female Professors builds on research carried out by Dr Nicola Rollock examining the career experiences and strategies of Black female professors. Published early 2019, the research reveals the barriers faced by the women as they worked to navigate their way through higher education and the strategies they used to help them reach professorship.

Nicola then commissioned the photographer Bill Knight to take portraits of each of the UK’s Black female professors. Bill travelled across England and Wales to meet each of the professors and take their portrait for the project. Some professors chose to have their portrait taken at Bill’s studio in London.

The aim of Phenomenal Women is to challenge perceptions of what a professor looks like, to highlight the intersectionality of race and gender and, to showcase the achievements of this under-represented group of academics. The exhibition includes portraits of Black female scholars who were professors at a UK higher education institution at some point in the past three years.

Phenomenal Women: Portraits of UK Black Female Professors is the first ever exhibition to recognise and celebrate this otherwise invisible group of leading Black female scholars.

Nicola Rollock

Dr Nicola Rollock is an academic, consultant and public speaker specialising in racial justice in education and the workplace. In January 2019 she was appointed Specialist Adviser to the Home Affairs Select Committee’s ‘Macpherson 20 Years On’ Inquiry, a role she held until Parliament was dissolved in November 2019.

Her most recent research examines the career experiences and strategies of UK Black female professors. The findings were widely covered in the press, including The Guardian, British Vogue, Stylist magazine and WonkHE.

Nicola is a member of the Wellcome Trust’s Diversity & Inclusion Steering Group and the British Science Association’s Equality, Diversity & Inclusion Advisory Group. She is also a judge for the JP Morgan-sponsored ‘Stories of Black Leadership’ series, which showcases successful Black female leaders, and for the Powerful Media Powerlist of Britain’s most influential people of African and African Caribbean heritage.

Nicola was selected by Times Higher Education journalists as one of 11 scholars globally to have influenced debate in higher education during 2019.


Bill Knight

Bill started in professional photography when he was 18, as a beach photographer at Margate. After a long career break in the law he started again some 18 years ago and now specialises in portraits, opera, theatre and dance.

Bill’s exhibition The Refugee’s Gift at St Martin in the Fields in London’s Trafalgar Square showed refugees who have made a contribution to the United Kingdom. His portraits of photographer Elsbeth Juda and scientist Gustav Born from the exhibition are now in the permanent collection at the National Portrait Gallery.

His work has included portraits to celebrate 40 years of women at Brasenose College, Oxford and images for Christ’s College Cambridge. His exhibition Where I come from, about graduates from migrant families, has been shown in London and Windsor. Bill has been twice a winner in the Portrait of Britain competition. His work can be found here.

In a former life Bill was senior partner at international law firm Simmons & Simmons, President of the City of London Law Society, Deputy Chairman of Council at Lloyd’s of London and Chairman of the Financial Reporting Review Panel. In 2012 he was awarded the OBE for services to financial regulation.


Website accessibility statement