Aurora Network

Aurora women's leadership development community

Posts By: Simon Inger

2016-17 reflections and plans

📥  News, Reflections

This is a quick update following the gathering of participants, mentors and others at the conclusion of the 2017 workshop series, including the key dates for 2017-18.

1)      This year’s participants were as positive as ever, citing the most rewarding aspects of the programme as:

a)      The dedicated time, support and insight to take more active control of their career development.

b)      The insight into the situation of their peers at other institutions: just like us!

As ever, different parts of the programme had different value for different people, and there was still unevenness about the contribution of the role models, but overall it was hugely beneficial. Forming a Bath cohort to travel together also seems to have been very useful.

2)      The University will take part in the programme again next year, with  a very similar application process, as it’s considered pretty robust.  We will add more structure and firmer expectations about taking part in scheduled preparation and feedback meetings, be more systematic in our support for mentoring, and firm up the expectation for sponsoring managers to be involved in supporting the ongoing development of participants on return.

3)      During 2017-18 we will review the University’s participation in Aurora in more depth, testing the impact it has had on individuals and the organisation and what we can do to take things forward. It is likely that the LFHE will change Aurora in some way after next year, the final one of the original commitment, but it will still be part of their programme.


18 September     Publicity and call for applications

23 October        Closing date for applications

14 November     Selection panel meeting

10 January        Cohort and mentor preparation meeting

31 January        Cardiff workshop series
28 February
21 March
26 April
23 May

5 June             Reflection and celebration meeting


Challenging and fun: a participant's view of Aurora and its aftermath

📥  Uncategorized

Marcelle McManus writes:

I embarked upon the Aurora experience with a bit of trepidation; being from Mechanical Engineering the prospect of being surrounded by women was daunting! But I am so glad I did it. The aurora experience was full of inspiration, frustration, and making friends. Longer term it has left me with a network of people I can share good and bad times with, a deeper knowledge of how academia and Bath works and how management and leadership skills can be found in unexpected places. My cohort travelled to Cardiff, and I was impressed by the variety and number of people there. Some of the speakers were truly inspirational and were willing to share all sorts of stories, experiences, challenges and solutions. One of the best parts of Aurora for me was the Action Learning set. I got to know my group very well; and we all had to take a problem or issue to discuss. Everyone really engaged in this process and the best bit was that we all stuck together over the next sessions and really followed up on progress. I got to see people in my set really progress -  to promotion, overcoming particular problems at work, and dealing with some really tricky issues. I myself really developed as the year went on, and it hasn’t stopped. I had a fantastic mentor during the process and he really also helped me see how to change things here at the University and enable myself to overcome challenges ahead. And when I couldn’t do that myself he helped. Fantastic! Lots of us are now on Senate, I don’t think that would have happened without Aurora. I strongly advise anyone who is thinking about it to go; it’s not only challenging, it’s fun!


Aurora Champions: time to change the world?

📥  Ideas and debates, Reflections

“Walking here from the tube I think I passed every couture house in London.”
“I know, did you see…”
“I don’t want to perpetuate gender stereotypes, but I can’t say I noticed.”
“I bet you noticed the cars, though.”

OK, guilty. I was in Mayfair, yesterday, one of four men among 120 women at the Aurora Champions’ Conference. (They kept thanking us for being there.) This was an event for champions, mentors and role models, where we talked about taking the process beyond the development of individual women and on to changing the world, of HE at least. It was an Aurora-format event, with table groups and plenary speakers, and although we didn’t get a lot of table chat time I met loads of people I hadn’t seen for ages, plus of course some interesting new ones.

My main conclusion from the day was that no one initiative is enough, and we have to attack determinedly and ruthlessly on all kinds of fronts if a gender-balanced workforce is going to happen.

First up, Dennis Layton from McKinsey talked us through the data, the business case for making it happen. More diversity at board and executive level is correlated with better profitability across all the “geographies” they studied. Statistic of the day was that increasing gender diversity in the UK gets you ten times the profitability dividend that you get in the USA. Call me if you want to know why. Oh, and the smarter you are, the more likely you are to have unconscious bias!

Later we heard about Horizon 2020. Now I was dimly aware that there are more gender duties in EU funding nowadays, but I think we were all taken aback at just how deep it runs. As well as the gender balance of your team, you have to explain the gender implications in the content of your research, down to the end-user experience. The scientist tweaking millet genes in the lab has nothing to worry about, right? Well, if you change the way those crops are planted and grown in the developing world, you could fundamentally impact on gendered society roles. I’m sure everyone here is on top of it, but I’ll be putting in a call to RIS just in case.

The centrepiece was a debate, chaired by Mishal Husain from the Today programme. And there’s an awesome role model, by the way. I’m used to working with some sharp women, present company included, but her speed of thought and ability to get underneath issues and steer the discussion to the things that mattered, in the most affable way, was breath-taking.

The topic was “Affirmative Action or Not?” Very little has changed in the 45 years since the first equality legislation, across all sectors, so isn’t it time to tear up the rule book and introduce things like quotas? We heard from Norway, where they have quotas on public bodies ("If the objective was to meet the quota, we've achieved it"), as well as the CEO of the Equality Challenge Unit and VC Cara Aitchison.  I thought the mood in the room definitely swayed towards the “time to do something more radical” faction, but there were lots of voices urging a more measured pace, that we’re on the cusp of a different world, and anyway there are laws we can’t circumvent.
The final speaker, Averil Leimon, feels that her generation thought the same thing in the 80s and they dropped ball. Then as now, the young men, whatever their attitudes, will enter an environment that is controlled by the older generation, and they will become changed by it and so perpetuate a “landscape that wasn’t designed for women.” Speaking of positive and affirmative action, she made the point that quotas and merit are not mutually exclusive. “As soon as you talk about quotas, they think you’re just going to go on the street and get anything with a vagina.”

We have a target (not a quota) to get 30% female membership of University committees, and three female heads of academic departments. And it’s not looking good for achieving those in the short term. How affirmative are we prepared to get?


“Leadership behaviour precedes leadership roles”

📥  Ideas and debates, Reflections

A note from Jane Millar

I attended the first Aurora day of this round in Cardiff on the 15th January. The theme was ‘Identity, Impact and Voice’ and there were over 90 women there from several universities. All our Bath participants were there and a number of us got very wet on the walk from the station – first lesson, taxi next time if it looks like rain!  I found the day both interesting and engaging.  There was a lot of discussion about how leadership in practice is not simply found in specific leadership roles and we were encouraged to think about how we already ‘do’ leadership in many ways and capacities. I had a badge saying ‘role model’ which felt a bit odd – but again, as we discussed, we are all role models already in various relationships and contexts. What did others think of the day?



The view from our Aurora Champion

📥  Reflections

Professor Jane Millar, OBE.  Pro-Vice-Chancellor (Research)

Professor Jane Millar, OBE. Pro-Vice-Chancellor (Research)

Recent activity

I have been involved in two Aurora meetings recently. The first was the panel with the very difficult task of selecting the ten people to take part in the current round.  As with last year, we had a really strong list of applicants, all of whom would have benefited from, and enjoyed, taking part.  We had to choose but I hope that those not selected will consider applying again next year.  It is great to see this level of interest in the programme.  The second meeting included the women about to start the programme, the women who took part next year, the mentors and role models. It was a chance to meet each other and to talk about expectations and experiences.

Why is the University promoting Aurora?

I was asked, as I have been before - why is the University participating in the programme and what do we hope to get out of it for the institution as a whole? I think there are three main reasons. First this is a leadership programme.  Universities are complex organisations that require not just day-to-day management but also creative leadership, in ways that respect our academic values.  At all levels, we need people who can inspire trust and confidence, people who can come up with new ideas and directions, and who can make things happen.  Second this is a programme targeted on women. At the moment the university does not have enough women in recognised leadership roles.  We are missing out on a lot of talent as a consequence.  Specifically, I would like to see a much more equal balance of women/men as heads of departments. Third this is a national programme. It involves working with people from other universities in a variety of different roles. This is excellent for networking and it is also encourages people to be more outward-looking, to reflect on how we compare with others and what we can learn from that.

What do the participants do afterwards?

I also believe the University would not realise the benefits if all we did was allocate women to the programme and let them get on with it. To get the most out of it, for both the individuals and the institution, we need to ensure that we follow up in various ways.  We have an opportunity here to build up a community of people – participants, mentors, role models – with shared understanding and who can help to develop ideas and activities to enhance the basic programme and to put learning into practice. The first cohort has already started some of these meetings and discussions.  As we do this, I expect to see the Aurora tentacles spreading out across the university!


Contacting the Aurora community

📥  Resources

You can now get in touch with the University's Aurora community by email list:  -  all participants, mentors, role models and panel members (now 40-strong!) - all 2014 participants  - all 2015 participants

All members of the community are also being registered as users of this blog site, so that they can post and comment on blogs

Please contact Simon Inger if you wish to be unsubscribed from any of these lists.

You may also be aware that there's a JISCMAIL list for the national Aurora scene. It's a public list and you can subscribe at:


Reflections on Aurora by Felicia Fai

📥  Reflections

felicia fai photoFelicia Fai, Lecturer, School of Management

What is Aurora and why did I go?

In 2014 I was one of ten pioneering women from the University selected to attend the LFHE’s ‘Aurora - Developing future leaders for higher education’ programme, established in response to the recognition that women are under-represented in senior leadership positions in HE.
“Aurora” in mythology is the goddess of the dawn and in the Disney version, it’s the name of Sleeping Beauty, who is awoken from a deep slumber. In darker versions, Sleeping Beauty was drugged and abused while she slept. The programme clearly signals the beginning of serious efforts to encourage the flow through of women into more senior positions along both the academic and professional administrative tracks across the HE sector.
I was quick to apply to Aurora, why? Because with a length of service that would place me as a mid-career academic, I had found it hard to move forward. Was it me? Was I not good enough, intelligent enough? Didn’t I work hard enough? Was there something I could do about it? I went with few expectations, just curiosity and hope for some answers as did about 1000 other women across the UK and Ireland.

Structure of Aurora Sessions
There were 5 sessions run monthly from January to May, they covered:
• Identity, impact and voice
• Power and politics
• Action learning set
• Core leadership skills
• Adaptive leadership skills
Each session was supported by online materials and exercises which were to be read/ completed before the meeting so that you had engaged reflectively with the material already.
The sessions themselves were day-long, run by a leader and used a mix of presentations, interactive sessions and group activities coordinated by a leadership mentor at each table. There were also thought-leadership keynotes by women who “had made it”– mostly in HE, although Oona King talked about her struggles in the political arena. There was also an action learning session where we all had to outline an issue we were tackling at work and others had to help us find our own solution to our problem.
For the most part, I personally didn’t find that the prior reading and exercises often fed directly in to the sessions, but it was interesting to reflect upon my own situation and perspectives. The sessions themselves were inevitably variable, as we all go with our own agendas. All sessions tried to pack a LOT into a single day and for exercises that require thoughtful reflection, there was never enough time to do this effectively. The keynote speakers were all intelligent, witty, successful women and it was interesting to hear about their journeys. Again, some resonated more than others.

Did I find my 5 month commitment useful?

I guess my initial response was warm. The University of Bath is unusual with a female VC and Pro-VC of Research. In the School of Management we have a female Dean and Associate Dean for Research. This had an effect on my perspective as our female leaders are very visible; that’s why I put my slow progress down to me, rather than institutional or sectoral factors. The opportunity to network with colleagues from elsewhere revealed Bath does do relatively well supporting females but it still has room for improvement.
The sessions on leadership made me acknowledge that there is very little wrong with me (!). In fact, I have many attributes that make me a good potential leader. Nevertheless, the power and politics session confirmed there was more I could and should be proactive about to enhance my prospects (and indeed I have been).
Overtime Aurora’s value to me has risen as some of the more subtle points of bias it highlighted have struck me. For example, some student feedback I received in the past used negative terminology for an attribute which, prior to Aurora, I accepted as a personal character flaw. However now I know that research exists to show that the same attribute would either be commented on in positive terms, or not at all, for a male colleague. I see injustice in that because we may find ourselves defending things in our annual reviews that our male colleagues wouldn’t, and such subtleties may cumulatively lead us to fall behind.
Aurora comes at a time when there appears to be a general movement encouraging us to “lean-in”. At Bath, the shared experience of the 10 pioneers, our mentors and leadership champion, suggests we have not been abused in our ‘slumber’. Yet there is value for all females in the University, indeed sector to be more aware of the subtle cultural challenges (as opposed to legislative ones) we face in trying to make headway in our careers in HE and it is up to us collectively to help the University and HE sector shape its response and enter a new ‘dawn’.