Interview with Lisa-Dionne Morris

Founder of Black Female Academics’ Network discusses working in industry and academia, being a workaholic undergraduate and why Caribbean and Yorkshire values are strikingly similar

June 6, 2024
Lisa-Dionne Morris
Source: Lisa-Dionne Morris

Lisa-Dionne Morris is the founder of the Black Female Academics’ Network (BFAN). After working in dual roles as a lecturer in the University of Leeds’ School of Mechanical Engineering and as a design strategist in the manufacturing industry, she was promoted to the rank of professor in 2022, becoming just the 41st black female professor in the UK.

When and where were you born and how has it shaped who you are?
In 1974 in Huddersfield, Yorkshire. At the time it was a leading textile manufacturing town, characterised by its diverse immigrant workforce. My parents and grandparents migrated there from Carriacou in Grenada and Trinidad during the 1960s to work, support and help rebuild the British economy. I attended a prominent Catholic school, which was also diverse, with classmates from Polish, Italian, Irish and Caribbean backgrounds. It was a true melting pot of cultural experiences. Growing up in Huddersfield with Caribbean parents, I identify as African in diaspora, Caribbean by origin and I embrace traditional Caribbean and Yorkshire values, which are remarkably similar: straightforwardness, down-to-earth attitudes, a strong sense of identity, and friendliness. People from the Caribbean islands and Yorkshire share striking similarities. Grenadians and Trinidadians are bold, outspoken, and accept no nonsense, much like the people of Yorkshire.

What advice would you give to your younger self?
Focus on doing one thing and doing it well. When I was younger, I did not understand how to become an academic, and it did not interest me because I did not see a UK black female professor in the STEM field. However, I had two great lecturers, Robert Young and Peter Elliot, whose philosophy was to excel in one area before moving on to the next. This advice has been invaluable. In academia, it’s easy to take on numerous projects and titles, which can lead to mediocrity and feeling overwhelmed by expectations. Instead, I concentrate on completing one task thoroughly before tackling the next.

What kind of undergraduate were you?
By nature, I am competitive, and I see that as a positive trait. I remain very ambitious to this day. During my university years, I was extremely diligent, overly studious, and a complete workaholic. I was the kind of student who arrived at campus at 8am and didn’t leave until 10pm. Back then, there was a strong culture of being on campus, which I believe we’ve lost today. Being on campus allowed my character and personality to grow alongside my peers, and I took full advantage of that. Being around others and learning from their actions was an integral part of my higher education experience.

You were the 41st black female professor in the UK. There have been about 25 appointed since. Is that progress?
I don’t think it is. Many women from the global majority have been operating at the professorial level for over a decade but haven’t been able to get promoted due to the barriers they face. When people are stuck at a level for so long, it’s clear that the system is flawed and not functioning properly. I know many individuals who aspire to make that shift, but they encounter numerous obstacles and a lack of pathways, mechanisms and opportunities. Universities need to invest more in their staff to encourage them to stay and thrive, but often, there is no room for expansion or growth.

When did you decide the Black Female Academics’ Network was needed and what are some of its main aims?
I received an email from my then head of school inviting me to participate in a programme called 100 Black Women Professors Now, run by the Women’s Higher Education Network. In the email, there were five other black females copied in, and I was shocked to realise that there were five other black female academics at this level at the University of Leeds, yet I didn’t know any of them. It felt incredibly unfair because social capital for black females is invaluable. This realisation spurred me into action. The main aims of the network are to increase our visibility, which is crucial for recognition, and to help us understand how to progress through the academic ranks, from undergraduate to vice-chancellor. Additionally, the network ensures black females working in academia have a supportive community to rely on.

Why did you make the switch from industry to academia?
During my time in industry, I often saw that research outputs were not easily actionable. Researchers would present findings and publish papers, but these insights were not readily applicable in practical settings. I pursued a PhD to become a researcher with an industrial perspective, aiming to ensure that the research conducted is relevant and can be implemented effectively and efficiently. My goal has been to bridge the gap between industry research, academic research and industry needs, making sure the research has tangible, practical outcomes.

What divided your life into a before and after moment?
Achieving my PhD was a pivotal moment for me, but it was surprising to find that becoming Dr Morris didn’t alter my experiences. No one treated me any differently. I had anticipated a power shift, but it never materialised, which was a thought-provoking realisation. For me, a power shift denotes a significant change in the distribution or balance of authority within a system, relationship or organisation. I’m still waiting for a before and after moment in my higher education experience.

If you weren’t an academic, what would you be doing?
I would focus on being a more dedicated mother. My son has been my greatest source of inspiration and support, and I deeply value the role of parenting. While I’ve been successful as a mother, I recognise that there’s always room for improvement. I feel a strong calling to teach and educate about social change, but I wish I could have dedicated more time to imparting those lessons daily to my son.


1994-98 Bachelor’s degree in industrial design, Northumbria University
1998-2000 Master’s degree in industrial design, Royal College of Art
2000-02 Senior design manager, Neale Plastics
2002-06 Founder and head, Lee Morris Design Limited
2006-08 Postgraduate certificate, learning and teaching in higher education, University of Leeds
2008 Postgraduate certificate, academic practice, School of Education, Leeds
2009-16 PhD, Institute of Design, Robotics and Optimisation, School of Mechanical, Engineering, Leeds
2006-22 Associate professor, human activity and product design, Leeds
2022-present Professor of public and industry understanding of capability driven design, Leeds


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