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Countdown begins to the pilot of a new women’s leadership initiative for Australia’s higher education sector

11 Dec 2023 | Advance HE Advance HE introduces the two experts who will spearhead a new initiative designed to support institutions striving for gender equity in Australia.

Advance HE is to pilot its flagship Aurora women’s leadership program in Australia next April to support tertiary institutions aiming for gender equity at all levels of their organisation.

The move builds on Advance HE’s long-standing work with universities in Australia which includes its partnership with SAGE (Science in Australia Gender Equality) and its own member institutions in the country.

Early to mid-career leaders

Professor Polly Parker and Jennifer Witheriff will lead the pilot initiative which is specifically aimed at early to mid-career leaders and focuses on academic staff and professional colleagues working on education delivery. A national program aimed at a broader cross-section of women in higher education will be rolled out later in 2024.

Both Polly and Jennifer have extensive experience in leadership development within the Australian university context and have tailored Advance HE’s Aurora program to meet the needs and aspirations of Australia’s women academics as well as other female staff involved in teaching and learning. The aim is to support tertiary institutions to attain their strategic gender equity goals.

Two women holding a sign that says Aurora - future, change, growth
Professor Polly Parker is pictured, left, with Jennifer Witheriff.

“We can’t wait to get Aurora off the ground in Australia because we know it will meet a real need,” said Professor Parker.

“Women are significantly less represented at senior leadership levels, and this gender disparity is a real challenge for universities across the country – just as it is elsewhere in the world.

Need for leadership development

“We’ve studied the action plans that many universities here in Australia have produced to tackle this gender disparity, and it’s clear they see the need for leadership development programs specifically for women. They see such support as a key way of creating a pipeline of women leaders equipped, from the early stages of their leadership journeys, with the skills, networks and knowledge to progress to the most senior leadership levels.”

Across the UK and Ireland, more than 10,000 women have completed Aurora since it began 10 years ago and follow-up studies consistently demonstrate the impact the program has on women’s career trajectories.

Tailored for Australia

However, the Aurora program being piloted in Australia will be tailored to the particular needs of that context, working in partnership with those with localised insight and expertise. 

“The Australian higher education context creates distinctive challenges for women wanting to progress in leadership roles,” said Jennifer Witheriff.

“Our aim is to bring the insights we have from working within the country’s higher education sector for many years to help tailor Aurora so that it's right for both women and their institutions here.

“The goal is for a bespoke Australian Aurora that will be transformative for the women who take part – and, crucially, help the institutions supporting it to develop a ‘pipeline’ of women leaders.”

Registrations open

Registrations of interest in the pilot program can be made now with bookings due to open shortly. The initiative is due to start online on 9 April 2024 and will comprise three online and three in-person sessions – all in Perth. 

 The program focuses on igniting leadership by exploring:

  • Adaptive leadership
  • Navigating the political environment
  • Understanding myself and the context in which I work, and
  • Developing and maintaining strategic relationships.

Women's leadership

The launch of the pilot Aurora program follows a successful women’s leadership event staged in Perth by Advance HE earlier this year.

More than 60 higher education professionals from across Australia participated in the event exploring issues facing women leaders – which was facilitated by Advance HE and included an interview with Chair of SAGE Libby Lyons and hosted by Edith Cowan University.

Group of 14 women smiling
Some of the 60 participants on the Advance HE and SAGE women's leadership event in Perth earlier this year.

“Talking to women leaders and potential leaders in a broad range of global contexts, it’s clear that while there are differences in culture and contexts, there are real areas of commonality in terms of the hurdles they face,” said Advance HE’s Chief Executive Alison Johns, who recently met with vice chancellors from a number of Australian universities.

“That’s why we believe Aurora has a role to play alongside the work SAGE does in underpinning and rewarding organisational progress towards achieving gender equity.”

More information about the pilot Aurora women's leadership program taking place both online and in-person in Perth in April is here.

You can also register your interest here - ahead of bookings opening shortly.


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