Aurora works in partnership with higher education institutions to advocate and advance women’s leadership development within the sector. Together we create the most advantageous conditions for women in professional and academic roles to begin their leadership journey.
To support institutions make the most of Aurora, we have created three institutional case studies to share ideas, initiatives and examples of best practice among the higher education community. They show how, at both individual and organisational level, women's leadership development is being supported strategically throughout universities in the UK and Ireland.
Find out more about the Aurora experience with four Aurora participant and role model case studies.
Aurora is a key element of our Athena SWAN action plan and equality and diversity strategy. Aurora forms an integral feature of our staff development strategy within the pathway Enhancing Talent, which aims to develop emerging leaders. We see it as an important part of identifying talented women within the university and through Aurora, assisting them to reach their full potential.
Professor Lorraine De Souza, pro-vice chancellor (equality, diversity and staff development), is the Aurora champion for Brunel University
Professor Lorraine De Souza leads the development of the university’s Equality and Diversity Strategy and implementation plans championing Brunel’s commitment to promoting the principles of equality and diversity in all areas of University activity.
Potential candidates need to fill in the Aurora application form which includes a supporting statement from their line manager. All applications go to a selection committee chaired by the Aurora champion. Once the candidates are selected they are carefully matched with a mentor and attend a mentee awareness session. Unsuccessful candidates receive feedback and are re-directed to a number of internal career development programmes that we run.
All mentors fill in a form that outlines why they want to be a mentor and the top three areas of strength for them. We then use this information alongside the Aurora application forms to find a good match for the participants. This is done jointly with the equality and diversity and staff development offices. The participants are given an action plan to fill in with their mentor over the course of the year.
Aurora has had a huge impact for Brunel. It has highlighted our commitment to gender equality and ensuring women have the opportunity to apply for more senior positons in the organisation and that we want them to stay, grow and develop with us. Aurora has helped our participants to maximise their talents and develop leadership skills and acumen. Several have succeeded in advancing their careers, either through promotion or by attaining new leadership roles.
The participants have the opportunity to interact and network with other women from across the country. They also have the opportunity to have lunches with our vice-chancellor and share their experiences with her of working for Brunel. They have fruitful relationships with their mentors, who stretch their goal setting and share their own experiences of how they have become successful in their careers.
Read about Dr Mary Richards experience of Aurora. Dr Mary Richards is vice-dean for education and senior lecturer in theatre, and attended Aurora’s first year in 2013-14.
We started off with a small number of participants, but this has grown year-on-year and we now have more applicants than places. The feedback from the scheme has encouraged many more women to put their names forward. The closer involvement of line managers in supporting participants in their future plans has increased the impact of Aurora across our departments.
Make the most of the opportunities that this scheme presents and follow up on your goals.
Aurora has allowed the university to tap into the hidden potential of a wide variety of women throughout the organisation, in both academic and administrative roles, and to support them in moving forward with their career, be that at Robert Gordon University (RGU) or beyond. It has enabled these women to continue a journey of personal development and has built their confidence, networks and continued career satisfaction. For the university, it has also allowed us to raise the profile of women and the important contributions they are making at RGU. Alongside this, the university has noted the benefits to more senior women of the mentoring role and the opportunities of the enhanced working relationships between cohorts of women involved in the programme.
Susan MacLennan, senior organisational development specialist, is the Aurora champion for Robert Gordon University
Susan specialises in leadership and management development, coaching and mentoring, and has worked with many academic and professional services staff of all genders and stages in their careers. Susan works closely on the Aurora programme with the Gender Equality Champion, Professor Sarah Pedersen.
Aurora is promoted heavily in the university from early summer in the academic year preceding the application deadline. Information articles are circulated via our in-house e-bulletin, and in the university’s monthly newsletter, and the Aurora banner is displayed on plasma screens and PC screens throughout the campus. Information is disseminated to heads of school and departments asking them to consider staff who may be suitable for Aurora.
In addition to these formal channels, the new RGU Women’s Network hosted an information event in early September 2016 where previous ‘Aurorans’ were invited to share their experience of the programme with women interested in applying. This resulted in an increase in applications over the previous year and also enabled applicants to get advice and support from past participants. The event was very well received and the Network will run this every year, but we will move it forward to take place at the end of the academic year prior to the deadline.
As a mark of the importance of Aurora, the university provides central funding for 10 women to attend each year. This was instigated in 2016/17 after it became clear that there was a need to ensure that applicants did not have to rely on funding being available at School or Department level.
In order to promote fair and equal access to Aurora for all women, a selection panel now considers the nominations and funds the 10 women who make the most compelling applications, however the total number of places awarded is normally above 10 as Heads will often agree to fund shortlisted applicants directly. Applicants are asked to provide a statement outlining what they hope to gain from the programme, how they hope participation in Aurora will impact their career development and why they feel that they should receive central funding.
All senior women in the university, and some external individuals, are approached early in the year and asked if they would be interested in mentoring an Auroran. This bank of interested mentors is circulated along with their biographies to the Aurora delegates who are asked to rank their preferences for a mentor. To date, it has been relatively straightforward to meet the Aurorans’ preference for a mentor. Some mentors are happy to accept more than one mentee, and we have a cohort of experienced mentors who have worked with Aurorans over a number of years. The Aurorans often state that the mentoring experience is an important and valuable factor of the programme, often resulting in friendships and professional collaborations. The mentors also value the opportunity to help the Auroran meet their objectives and realise their potential.
We see the impact of Aurora in the achievements of past and present Aurorans, their contribution to the leadership of the university and their continued commitment to career development, both for themselves and for other women at RGU. Several past and present Aurorans were involved in the establishment of the RGU Women’s Network in early 2016, which was founded to facilitate networking and support amongst women employed by the university.
In winter 2016/17 the Women’s Network and the Gender Equality Champion produced a publication entitled ‘Celebrating Women at RGU: Aurora edition’, which showcased six case studies of Aurorans at RGU. This publication was produced in print and online and was publicised throughout the university and in the press. In January 2017 a motion was introduced in the Scottish Parliament commending RGU for the publication and its wider commitment to Aurora.
Karen Cross has recently been promoted to academic strategic lead in the School of Cultural and Creative Business. She says:
“It was great to hear stories from other women on the course and to benefit from the knowledge, expertise and wisdom of the Aurora mentors. The programme helped me to take a step back from my very busy role and focus on my future. I also feel that the Aurora programme has helped me to become more aware of my managerial role, and the impact that I can have on those with whom I work.”
Marianthi Leon undertook the Aurora programme when she was employed as a Research Fellow at RGU. She is now a lecturer on project and construction management at the Scott Sutherland School of Architecture and the Built Environment. She feels that Aurora helped her to develop, identify and crystallise her aims within academia and find her voice in expressing these to the right people. She says it also assisted with managing work, leadership responsibilities, politics and relations.
Rhona McComiskie leads the university’s strategic commitment to wider access. She says:
“The Aurora programme has helped me to think about leadership and consider my own leadership style. It has helped me to reflect and think about who I want to be. More specifically it has given me practical leadership tips that will continue to benefit me as I face new challenges and situations.”
Initially, applicantions to Aurora were dominated by women in academia, but over the past three years we are increasingly seeing a balance between academia and support staff. The provision of central funding for places has allowed the selection process to be more equitable, as there is no longer a dependence on a Head of School or Department to find the funding to allow participation.
The number of applicants has also grown over time as we improve the promotion of the opportunity and as more women go through the programme and their colleagues hear about the experience. The ‘Celebrating Women at RGU: Aurora edition’ has also helped to raise the profile of the programme within the institution. An exhibition of all three ‘Celebrating Women at RGU’ publications will be launched as part of our celebrations of International Women’s Day 2017.
We now have a pool of 37 women who have been through Aurora since its inception in 2013 and these women are evolving their careers in the institution through promotions and taking on central roles. We are also now matching our past Aurorans as mentors to current Aurorans; it’s good to see the process come full circle.
The allocation of central funding facilitates a more equitable selection process. Additionally, holding an event at which previous Aurorans talk openly about their involvement with the programme and share their experiences encourages other women to apply.
Aurora is important for University College Dublin (UCD), it provides an opportunity for participants to take a step back from their busy work schedules into a reflective space where they can consider what leadership means to them and how they can develop and contribute to leadership within their respective schools/units in UCD. It provides a unique opportunity for participants to come together from different disciplines and professional backgrounds and create supportive networks which aid in personal and professional development.
Professor Maeve Conrick, college principal, is the Aurora champion for University College Dublin
Professor Conrick is principal of the College of Arts and Humanities at University College Dublin. Educated in Ireland, Switzerland and France, she has published extensively in the areas of Sociolinguistics and Applied Linguistics. Career distinctions to date include an appointment as Specialist Advisor to a UK House of Commons Committee.
Professor Conrick is supported by an Aurora liaison:
Edel Quinn, learning and development specialist
Working in learning and development, Edel has a deep interest in personal and professional development and has had a varied career across private, public and the not for profit sectors.
In setting up Aurora, we are keen to really impress upon participants that they have been chosen for a reason, that their applications have demonstrated their potential for leadership and that their respective heads of school/unit endorse their application. In addition there is also a requirement that all applications have the nomination of the college principal/vice-principal of the unit which indicates support at a senior management level across the University.
Application to Aurora is a competitive process and applications are evaluated based on key criteria which include elements such as leadership potential and how that leadership can be best maximised for the benefit of the respective school/unit and the university as a whole.
Before the Aurora process starts, we ask participants to select mentors and approach them to ask if they would be willing to be mentors. The process is very open and we provide guidance based on the Leadership Foundation guidelines. As part of the preparation for Aurora, we provide mentor and mentee training so that both parties understand what’s expected of them. Mentoring for Aurora lasts for a 12 month period which can then be reviewed by both parties if they wish to extend the contract. Going forward we will provide more detailed guidelines around mentor selection. This is to encourage participants to find space and time when choosing a mentor; to think widely about what they are looking to achieve from mentoring and identify appropriate mentors for themselves.
Aurora is viewed as a very positive initiative within the university and is seen as something of value. Feedback has been very positive and every year we have more interest and enquiries around Aurora.
In our first cohort, we had a number of people who have enjoyed career progression and in many cases, they would cite Aurora as being a positive contributor to this. In addition, we have had participants from Aurora get together to run events i.e. Women’s Day and networking events to encourage greater networking, sharing and collaboration across the college.
Read about Catherine Lynch's experience of Aurora. Catherine is the gender project manager at University College Dublin and attended Aurora in 2014-15.
UCD see Aurora as something beyond just the training days. We try to create an Aurora experience for our participants whereby we provide events relating to Aurora – a launch with our President; an opportunity to hear a variety of speakers; check in facilitated sessions; mentors/mentee training and opportunities for informal get together with mentors and key decision makers in the University. We want to create an Aurora mentor network where past and current Aurora participants get together to support, challenge and grow each other!
Talk to everyone; make connections; use your networks; make full use of mentoring and look for leadership opportunities.
Edinburgh University is committed to ensuring that both men and women are able to fulfil their potential as leaders in research, learning and teaching or management. Although we have a variety of strategies to support both men and women in leadership development, women are still underrepresented in senior roles (as of 2015, 37% of vice-principals and senior management were female, and around 30% of heads of school were female). Schemes such as Aurora are hugely important in enabling women to explore their leadership aspirations and abilities in a supportive environment, and to develop their leadership potential. Many of our former participants have found the “cohort” nature of the scheme, the shared learning and the mentoring it provides invaluable.
Jane Norman, director of the Edinburgh Tommy’s Centre and vice-principal, people and culture, is the Aurora champion for the University of Edinburgh
Jane is professor of maternal and fetal health at the University of Edinburgh, leading a translational research team at the Tommy’s Centre for Maternal and Fetal Health which aims to improve the health of pregnant women and their babies. Jane has been vice-principal for people and culture since 2015, with responsibility for equality and diversity issues. In this role, she led the university’s successful application for an Athena SWAN Silver award in 2014.
Jane Norman is supported by two Aurora liaisons:
Ruth Miller, learning and development delivery specialist
Ruth joined the University of Edinburgh in 2013; she has over 16 years’ experience working in staff development in the private and higher education sectors across Europe, Australia and Scotland. Ruth delivers and tutors on a number of leadership development programmes across the university.
Frances Grebenc, HR/OD partner (learning and development)
Frances joined the University of Edinburgh in 2007; she has over 15 years’ experience working in staff development in both the private and public sector in Canada and Scotland. She is also responsible for managing Edinburgh’s mentoring connections programme and for project managing different organisational development work.
We use a competitive recruitment and selection process. We devolve this responsibility to each head of college and head of support group. To provide consistency and structure we have created and shared the University of Edinburgh's selection criteria, a process flow chart, a guidance document and an application form (which is now mandatory); these are all published on our website. Based on previous feedback, we have also changed our selection criteria and limit our participants to those in grades UE07-UE08 or equivalent; which means that the programme is no longer offered to Edinburgh’s senior lecturer level staff.
Once the candidates are nominated, we offer additional development options with the aim of supporting these individuals over the year and beyond. These options are all voluntary. They are:
Nominated participants and interested mentors are asked to complete an online form answering the following questions:
This information is then used to match participants with an available and appropriate mentor.
In the last year, we have started to look for more male mentors with the aim of increasing male senior staffs understanding of the programme topics and the personal challenges faced by female staff. Our mentors are a mix of interested staff, previous participants of Aurora and targeted individuals. This year we are also asking that our heads of college and support group to identify potential mentors.
Since Aurora began 54 women from the University of Edinburgh have attended the programme. We don’t track or measure the impact of Aurora on the careers of these participants; instead we focus our effort on offering ongoing support and development to reinforce the learning gained through the programme.
We see Aurora as one of many strands of work that fosters a community of excellent female leaders across the university. Aurora has supported our work to achieve our strategic targets of achieving Athena SWAN Silver and increasing the proportion of female academic staff appointed and promoted to lecturer, senior lecturer, reader, and professor levels. It aligns with our aim of valuing, supporting, developing and utilising the full potential of our staff to make the university a stimulating and successful place to work.
Read about Mairi's experience of Aurora. Mairi participated in year two of Aurora in 2014-15.
To get the full value from the programme participants need to have the time and interest in participating in Aurora. Individuals identified by their line manager; should still have the freedom to consider whether this programme is the best option for them. Building commitment and interest at the start leads to a more positive learning experience.
Want to know more?
Find out more about Aurora on our Frequently Asked Questions page.
Aurora 2016-17 booking
Booking is now open for Aurora 2016-17. Visit the Aurora dates and location page to find out more and book.
Aurora longitudinal study: Onwards and Upwards
Find out more about the leadership experiences, careers, values and aspirations of participants from the Aurora programme in our longitudinal study, Onwards and Upwards: Tracking the Careers of Women's Leadership in Higher Education.
Contact the Aurora team
Contact the Aurora team