Aurora is the Advance HE programme designed to empower women to seek leadership roles in higher education and achieve leadership success.
Advance HE has always worked closely with Aurora Champions often bringing the community together to understand the opportunities and challenges in advocating for gender diversity in leadership, to hear champions (and other professionals associated with Aurora) feedback on the programme and to provide a networking opportunity for champions to share best practice.
One such Aurora champion is Natalie Kennerley, Technical Services Development Manager at Manchester Metropolitan University. Natalie is part of the Technical Services leadership team, working with Dr Kate Dixon, Director of Technical Services.
Dr Dixon said she had always been acutely aware of the imbalance between men and women in leadership roles in higher education, particularly in technical roles.
She referenced research by the University of Nottingham in 2019 and a report supported by the Technician Commitment which revealed that there was an imbalance across the board, with 58% of technicians being male, with just 11% of technicians in physics and engineering being female, and a decline in the number of female technicians from the age of 30.
The majority of technicians with managerial positions were male, even in subject disciplines where the majority of staff were female.
She said: “Historically, some of the opportunities for leadership development were not available for technicians, which is apparent from these figures. I am pleased that the tide has begun to turn and that there is now a better balance.”
Dr Dixon had also experienced a lack of confidence in female technicians to put themselves forward for leadership roles and she believed this was where Aurora could play a key part. “We needed to help them to believe they could be brilliant leaders,” she said.
One of her key objectives was to establish a pipeline of women who would be confident to apply for leadership roles. She said: “I have found that women technicians tend to focus on the elements of the role they are not comfortable with, even if that is only 10% of the whole job description, and we needed to find ways to address that mindset.”
With that aim in mind, Dr Dixon has, with the full support of Manchester Metropolitan University, been working with technicians across the disciplines to build on their leadership potential through the Aurora programme.
The delegates are at different stages in their programmes but offer a wealth of anecdotal evidence on the value of Aurora. All are agreed that it has boosted their confidence and made them think differently about their roles.
One of those at the start of her journey is Christa Harding, Technical Officer in Sport and Physiology. She said: “Even after just a couple of sessions, I feel my ambition and confidence will improve massively by the end of the programme. I have learnt so much about myself already and what I can do going forward to improve myself personally.”
Carol Hardbattle, a Technical Team Leader for the Science and Engineering Resource Centre at the University, described her struggle with “imposter syndrome” and how it had coloured her approach before becoming part of an Aurora cohort. “It has given me belief in myself. When I started the programme I had only just become a team leader. It has helped me grow within my role and to become a competent leader.”
Jane Eaging, Technical Services Manager for Molecular Sciences, also found the experience a positive one, benefitting from the experiences of and issues faced by other members of her cohort. “I moved from being a manager to becoming a leader,” she said.
Clare Dean, now a Technical Officer for Environmental and Physiology, was still an Assistant Technical Officer when she took part in Aurora. She said: “I had spent a lot of time in education and then moved on to entry-level jobs. Aurora was my first opportunity to think about leadership and it planted the seed. It made me think about how my actions affect other people and I learned how to conduct myself in a more senior role.”
Lucy Lloyd-Ruck is Kate Dixon’s PA and Office Coordinator to Technical Services, Lucy has benefitted in terms of expanding her networks in higher education, learning how to influence others and consider different leadership styles. She said: “Aurora came at a really good time because I was leading a sustainability programme within Technical Services and it gave me the ability to act more strategically and create a wider impact.”
Each of the women taking part in Aurora have a mentor at their institution and this is seen as an important part of getting the most out of the programme, with the mentor aiding understanding of how their role sits within the organisation and how the programme applies to their own individual needs and aspirations.
Dr Dixon said: “One thing that is really changing in the world of work is that we are now seeing less and less of the master – servant, leader – employee relationship. More and more we are seeing that it does not matter what grade you are but that you are responsible for leading your own work and managing the relationships within your own sphere of influence. Aurora is a fantastic tool to equip and enable women to succeed.”
Aurora is Advance HE's leadership development initiative for women. It is run as a unique partnership bringing together leadership experts and higher education institutions to take positive action to address the under-representation of women in leadership positions in the sector.
Aurora: Your Future in HE
Face-to-face events taking place in 2022 will be of interest to Aurorans who are engaging with the main programme virtually on the 21/22 cohort, and are open to those who have previously engaged virtually but have not yet had a chance to meet face-to-face (from 19/20 and 20/21 cohorts). Find out more