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My Aurora story: Dr Mary Richards

Taking part in the first-ever Aurora women’s leadership programme proved a career turning point for academic Mary Richards. The reader at Brunel University has since seen her career soar and become architect of a ground-breaking undergraduate programme that is winning awards.

Ten years on from taking part in Advance HE’s first-ever Aurora women’s leadership programme and Dr Mary Richards reflects:

“It was a unique experience to sit in a room with 200 other women and to share inspirational stories and to feel a sense of genuine connection and community.

“It certainly gave me a space in which I could reflect on my own leadership and think about the sort of leader I wanted to be.

“Being with so many women, all from similar professional backgrounds as me, was a real ‘wow’ moment. It gave me clarity about my own career trajectory and instilled a fresh confidence about being a woman in higher education.”

Promotion as an academic

By the time Mary took part in Aurora, she had already been in academia for 12 years and had only been promoted once during that time - to senior lecturer three years previously. She says hers was a conspicuously slow rise up the academic ranks – something she partly attributes to ‘the times’ but also to the fact she was juggling work with her responsibilities as a single mother with no nearby family support to call upon.

But only a short time after completing Aurora, a number of new opportunities came her way and, because of the programme, she now had the mindset and confidence to take them on.

“I didn’t seek out leadership positions but when they came my way, my experiences on Aurora made me more motivated to make the most of them,” she said.

“As chair of the Academic Appeals Committee I automatically became a member of the Senate and had a role which gave me the chance to get an overview spanning the whole university.

“I felt the full weight of responsibility in the role and was acutely conscious of the importance of getting things right.

“But it gave me a huge insight into the university and its workings – something I would never had got otherwise. At first it was hugely daunting to present papers at the Senate.  All universities are incredibly hierarchical and initially I was surrounded by men who were all my senior. But as time went on, I found a tight knit group of colleagues and gained in confidence.”

Mary’s ascent continued with her appointment as Vice-Dean of Education in 2014 – a management role which meant she led a team of colleagues from across all the departments of the College. In 2016 she was promoted to Reader (often known as Associate Professor) and at the same time completed her tenure as Vice-Dean in 2017 in order to concentrate on her work to introduce a pioneering, transdisciplinary undergraduate programme – BASc Global Challenges.

“As an academic you can move from independent research and teaching to managerial positions which require substantial leadership skills,” she said.

“Aurora helped equip me for the challenges of that.

“As Vice-Dean I had to step up to a prominent leadership role with considerable line management responsibilities. To succeed in setting up the Global Challenges programme, I had to embrace a different type of leadership which involved mustering support across the university for an entirely new approach to course development.

“Aurora helped me understand the different types of leadership, to understand where power and influence lie and how to harness that power to deliver for my students.”

Now in its 5th year, Brunel’s Global Challenge programme has already gained a prestigious Green Gowns Award and is achieving some of the highest possible student satisfaction scores.

Mary’s now plans to consolidate her work on the Global Challenges programme by introducing a new Masters course. As well as supporting other academic colleagues to develop transdisciplinary approaches to study programmes, she  also gained Research England and Office for Students funding for an international student knowledge exchange which focuses on the reciprocal benefits that can be gained at the nexus of education and research through collaboratively working with staff and students from the Copperbelt University, the University of Zambia and community members in Mayukwayukwa.

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Aurora women’s leadership programme is celebrating its 10th anniversary! Since it was launched in 2013, more than 10,000 women from nearly 200 different institutions across the UK and the Ireland have completed it – all gaining new skills, bigger networks and fresh perspectives on leadership. To mark this special milestone, women who have taken part in Aurora since its very earliest days share their stories and institutions outline the role it plays in their gender equality work.

Join us as we celebrate a decade of leadership empowerment
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Becoming an Aurora Mentor workshops

Mentoring is now a vital development tool in many organisations and can be used to speed up integration through induction mentoring, to develop skills and support career progress as well as to address strategic objectives such as diversity, well-being or retention.

Evidence suggests that both mentor and mentee gain from the experience so the skills of mentoring appear to enhance wider working practices. This course gives an introduction to mentoring in an institutional context and will identify how to make mentoring effective. It will cover best practice guidelines to follow and give delegates practical advice in addition to well validated tools and techniques to use.

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Aurora Alumnae Network

The Aurora Alumnae community is designed exclusively for women who have completed the Aurora programme, offering a platform for ongoing growth and collaboration. It was established in recognition of the transformative impact of the Aurora programme. With over 10,000 women from nearly 200 institutions in the UK and Ireland participating in Aurora since its launch in 2013, the community addresses the continued need for support, development, and connectivity among its members.

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