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Supporting Ethnically Diverse Leaders at the University of Central Lancashire

Updated: Jul 3


Founded in 1828 as the “Institution for the Diffusion of Knowledge”, University of Central Lancashire (UCLan) crowned University of the Year (EduFuturist Awards 2023) is renowned for its diverse academic programs and commitment to fostering leadership skills among colleagues and students. In 2024, the university launched a comprehensive Leadership and Career Development Program to equip academic and professional services colleagues from minoritised ethnic backgrounds with the exposure and insights needed to become leaders in their respective fields. The program aimed to address the impact of being from a minoritised ethnic background in a white organisation, and to develop strategies to manage their career and for promotion and progression at UCLan.


Why was the programme needed?

The experiences of minoritized ethnic colleagues and students are well documented to differ from the experiences of their white counterparts. For example, the Equality and Human Rights Commission identified that more than 35% of staff in UK Higher Education Institutions (HEIs) had experienced exclusionary behaviours such as racist name calling, insults or jokes (Tackling Racial Harassment: universities challenged, Equality and Human Rights Commission, 2019). Moreover, there remains a longstanding lack of representation with Black colleagues currently representing just 1% of Professors (HESA, 2022/23).

Despite its strong academic reputation, UCLan identified gaps in the representation and experiences of minoritised ethnic colleagues, particularly at leadership level across the institution and developed a positive action initiative to make progress in this area.


Goals and Objectives of Aspire

The Aspire Program at UCLan had six clear goals:

  1. Explore the impact of being an minoritized ethnic colleague in a majority white organisation.

  2. Understand the nature of power dynamics and develop skills to communicate the strength of your leadership.

  3. Learn to manage organisational politics and build relationships.

  4. Collaboratively create sustainable change at the University

  5. Balance personal leadership style with the demands of the University without compromising authenticity

  6. Develop strategies to manage career and prepare for promotion and progression.


How the programme worked

1. Externally Facilitated Workshops

Bakare Barley Ltd, a specialist equality, diversity and inclusion consultancy organisation, led by Ayo Barley was commissioned to deliver four full day workshop sessions. In partnership with Bakare Barley and UCLan, Amiokaa consultancy, led by Rachel Gnagniko focused on supporting Bakare Barley's equality initiatives that aligned with shared values of leadership and inclusivity. Workshops and coaching sessions were co-designed, utilising Amiokaa’s expertise in leadership development, trauma-informed practices, and collective intelligence. Leadership modules were developed and included in the 12-week programme ranging from topics such as “Identity and Public Persona”, to “Speaking and Being Heard”.

What we focused on:

  • Leadership Skills Development: Working with the UCLan People Team, targeted leadership development was provided that enhanced participants' abilities to lead effectively.

  • Trauma-Informed Practices: Psychological well-being, addressing racially driven traumas was emphasised to create a supportive learning environment.

  • Collective Intelligence: Sessions promoted problem-solving and innovation, strengthening community ties through shared knowledge.

  • Customised Learning Approaches: The programme was adapted to suit neurodivergent learning styles, maximizing participant engagement.

  • Peer Support: A mutual aid network was encouraged, enhancing resilience and establishing a lasting support system.

  • UK Higher Education context: Inspiring speakers discussed the historical challenges facing race equality in HE, and how collective action led by minoritised groups is leading to change.

  • Navigating Social Barriers: Overcoming challenges related to social racialisation was a key focus, and empowering participants with the necessary tools for impactful change.

  • Leadership Insights: Delivered by Jo Cutler, Coach and Leadership Development Consultant.


These collaborative efforts between participants, UCLan, Bakare Barley, Amiokaa and Jo Cutler offered a holistic and balanced approach to the programme, and significantly enhanced the experience of participants.


2. Strategic Challenge Projects

The university worked with the cohort in two groups to review, reflect and provide recommendations on:

  • Their People Value Proposition from an minoritised ethnic lens and

  • The rollout of the Aspire Program and the development of a cross-institutional minoritised ethnic mentoring scheme.

These projects have been submitted into UCLan's Race Equality Charter (REC) action plan.

This provided ample opportunities for exposure to senior sponsors, influencing legacy, the development of project management skills, embedding diversity and inclusion and initiatives for attracting a wider candidate pool and providing specific developmental opportunities for minoritised ethnic colleagues.


3. Internally facilitated workshops

Regular workshops and seminars were organised by the People Development Team featuring guest speakers from various departments. These sessions covered topics such as “How to get things done at UCLan” and Career Planning.


4. Coaching programme

A coaching conversations program was offered to all members of the cohort where they benefited from two coaching sessions. The sessions were designed to nurture psychological safety as an individual reflective space to develop thinking about the topics covered in the workshops. They were also supportive spaces to empower the cohort to improve their abilities to deal with career challenges and establish a pathway towards their career goals.

The Impact


In 2024, the Aspire programme at UCLan received excellent feedback from the inaugural cohort.

Skill Enhancement: Over 50% of participants reported significant improvements in their leadership and communication skills.

Interdisciplinary Engagement: The program successfully attracted 8 colleagues from 5 schools and 2 professional service areas


Participants found the following most useful:

  • Meeting other colleagues across the University and sharing experiences

  • Vice-Chancellor attending and ability to gain that reassurance and encouragement. Having Graham come and speak to us about his commitment to the programme and improving the experiences of those from diverse backgrounds at UCLan.

  • Meeting others in person. Having the opportunity to speak openly about experiences.

  • The facilitative approach of the trainer, engaging activities, and participation of leaders at UCLan.

  • Sharing lived experiences and activities

  • I really enjoyed getting to know the others and exploring different perspectives of ethnicity.

  • It was really interesting about learning different perspectives and theories about how ethnicity impacts decisions/feelings. It was also really to talk more in this session rather than slides and information being delivered.

  • Practical examples of issues discussed e.g. leadership/empowerment models, team roles with lots of activities.

  • Engaging activities and comfortable ambience, reflecting on our personal life, and sharing our perspectives and opinions in each other.

  • Looking at how I see myself and comparing it with how others perceive me.

Although the programme started recently, I already feel empowered and have been able to think of self and roles from different perspectives beyond just my office, team or school. I found myself thinking with UCLan in mind rather than just the school where I work. This enabled me to compare and contrast with colleagues and be thankful of the nurturing organisational culture that I am a part of currently.



How we will develop Aspire in 2025

Information gathered in our programme evaluation session led to the following recommendation for improving the programme in future cohorts:

  1. Resource Allocation: Securing funding and resources for the program was a significant hurdle, requiring ongoing support from UCLan to cascade the programme to future minoritized ethnic leaders.

  2. Program Awareness: Initially, awareness and interest in the program was limited to minoritized ethnic colleagues and it became clear that there needed to be an increased focus on highlighting the programme to managers. This will ensure they are able to support their team members who were participating and understand the organisational vs individual responsibilities.

  3. Balancing Commitments: The cohort valued flexible scheduling and support to ensure they were able to balance their work and personal commitments while participating in the programme.

  4. Anti-racism training and reflective spaces will be offered to managers, facilitators, and sponsors to build confidence with discussing issues of race.

  5. Impact measures will be aligned with the Race Equality Charter to ensure the project contributes to the overall UCLan strategy around race equity for colleagues and students.



The Aspire Program at UCLan serves as a model for integrating bespoke leadership \the employability of its colleagues but will also foster a culture of inclusive leadership and innovation within the university community. The success of Aspire underscores the importance of interdisciplinary approaches, practical experiences, and coaching in developing future leaders.

Through continuous improvement and adaptation, UCLan aims to further refine the program and expand its impact in the coming years.

This case study highlights the effectiveness of a well-structured positive action-based leadership initiative in higher education and provides insights for other institutions seeking to implement similar programs.

Get in touch!

To find out more, or speak to us about developing a programme at your University or organisation contact us at

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