Q&A with University Race Equality Champion and Head of School of Management, Prof Palie Smart

Black History MonthProfessor Palie Smart is the Head of the School of Management at the University of Bristol and also the University Race Equality Champion. She is the only Female BAME Head of a UK Business / Management School amongst the Russell Group Universities.

Here she tells more about what inspired her career in education, the barriers she overcame and her proudest moments…so far!

Who or what inspired you to follow the career you have?

I see education as a path to emancipation. My mother instilled the fear of history repeating, with her missed opportunity and failed ambition to become a teacher. Having lost her mother at the age of six months, during the Indian Independence struggle after the second World War, Mum never experienced the guiding hand of a mother in a child’s life. The pressure to work hard and to provide was on her from a young age and then as a young mother, this simply did not afford the luxury of the education required to become a teacher. My mother’s lost opportunity is what inspired me.

What are some key moments and events that have shaped your career and life path?

The University of Bristol is a prestigious and globally admired university. I came to Bristol in 2017, when both my boys had just left home for University and my husband was ready to embark on a new career path, following 25 years in local government. The stars in the sky aligned for me at that time.  From a quintessential English village in Buckinghamshire (Thornborough), it was generally expected that most of my friends would end up in The West Country at some point in the next few decades.  I decided not to wait and arrived early!

What, if any, barriers have you encountered and how did you overcome these?

Wow! This is a difficult question for me because I have spent the past 45 years trying not to see and recognise these barriers and biases. Growing up, you mostly think there is something wrong with you and so blame your heritage, your difference or your circumstance.  Later, you start to realise that there is not something wrong with you, other than your conditioned perceptions and interpretations of the world around. These days, I work harder to breakthrough these initial (mis)interpretations.

How have your skills/qualifications/experience influenced your career?

Well a PhD helps if you want a classical academic career!  I believe in notions of discipline, evidence, science, analysis and the philosophy of religion. It is clear and opaque in equal measure and somehow that keeps me more intrigued than frustrated.  I have an unbelievable capacity to ask the most ridiculous questions (my family will testify!) and that keeps me sane.

What, if any, are your future ambitions and hopes?

Ah ha, these are too noble to share! Ultimately, I’d like to have made a positive difference in the world and a life-lived that my children and grandchildren would be proud of.

What have you learned and what advice would you offer?

Well there are three things here for me…

I have learned…that I still believe you can achieve anything you really desire. Innate ability gets you so far, the rest is about putting in the hard work. As you get older, you can lose faith in this idea(l) – Don’t!

My Advice:

  • Have good manners.
  • Be the optimist.
  • Don’t waste time.
  • Channel your passion and energy with good intent.
  • Think about how you want people to remember you.

What are you most proud of?

That’s Easy!  My boys, Dhillon and Finlay they are beyond amazing – mostly due to their Dad!

I’m pleased I managed to retain a generally happy family life and progressed my career at the same time. And, I’m still on my first marriage!

Palie’s ambition for the School of Management is to “Inspire the next generation of global citizens and leaders to address the grand societal changes of our time.”

The School seeks to be critically reflective, analytical and evidence informed about the changes driven by globalisation, governance, entrepreneurialism, digital innovation and sustainability. Its vision is to “Empower leadership for a sustainable, inclusive and prosperous world through a progressive understanding of management and organisation in alliance with business, government and society.”

Our School supports Black History Month and offers a welcoming and inspiring community to students from all backgrounds. Together we can seek to make a positive impact in the world.