The Aurora Leadership Programme

I was privileged to be nominated (by my Head of College) to attend the Aurora Leadership Programme, which took place in Glasgow over the first part of 2014. It was split into 5 separate ‘days’ with some reflection or preparation before each event. Aurora is the name of the Roman goddess of the dawn who in myth reinvented herself each morning. I think a lot of women feel that they have to reinvent themselves several times a day passing from roles such as mother to clinician to teacher to supervisor and mentor and back again to mother and home-maker before the day is done. This leaves little time for considering their role as, ‘Leaders’. Indeed the Aurora programme came about following Professor Louise Morley’s stimulus paper that showed that there were fewer women in the most senior positions in higher education than ten years ago (January 2013).
Clearly something has been going wrong and this is not helped by the dearth of female leaders that can act as role models for younger women to aspire to being. The women-only Aurora programme was intended to develop women with the potential for leadership, not just those who have already shown a talent for it and was aimed at both academic and professional service staff. It was advertised for women up to senior lecturer level or professional services equivalent in a university or higher education college and most of the people I met there were not yet in a senior management role.
Over the separate days on which I attended the programme I met many different women in all walks of life in Higher Education. It was good to step outside my own university and get a clearer perspective. We had inspirational talks from many women in various professions (including Civil Engineers, Heads of various Colleges including Professor Yellowlees, Head of the College of Science and Engineering at Edinburgh University). What they all espoused was to have a plan, to work hard, to network and to just get out there and do it. They encouraged us to seek out role models (who could be men or women) and to reflect on what leadership meant to us and how we could contribute as leaders. It was clear that too often women were waiting to be asked rather than putting themselves forwards. Women also suffered from feeling they needed to be sure they could, ‘tick every box’ before they risked suggesting they took a leadership role, something our male colleagues seem to have less reticence about. It was good to step outside my own university and get a clearer perspective.
Specifically from the Aurora programme I believe that I learnt the following valuable lessons;
-It’s important to identify at least 1 role model and ask them if they will meet with you regularly. If you, ‘don’t click’, find another one!
-If you need something to happen to allow your career to progress don’t be afraid to negotiate. Ultimately you want to contribute as well as you can and this will also be to the University’s benefit.
-Try to network with other women. Women can support women and I have made excellent contacts and learnt a lot from them.
– Talking about gender really made me challenge my own beliefs. It has opened up a whole new set of scenarios.
-It was good to be exposed to successful women and hear their stories. They didn’t have to, ‘act like men’! Clearly women have innate skills that they can use to move up the career ladder in the university.
-The action learning sets were really useful. It allowed me to gain skills in helping others to solve their own problems.
-The course gave me the time to think about leadership; its an acquired skill and women have a lot to offer.
I believe women should be putting themselves forward for this programme as soon as possible. They shouldn’t wait to be asked or wait until they think they deserve to go! The Aurora champions in Edinburgh University are, Jane Norman, Vice Principal, Equality and Diversity and Kirsty Robertson, Senior Human Resources, Organisational Development Partner, Learning and Development.
Good Luck!
Mohini Gray