Tackling the gender gap – a champion’s tale

wordle FINALLynne Howlett, Aurora champion at Newcastle University, reflects on how Aurora has impacted her institution, from the women who took part to changes at the very top. Here’s her story.

Newcastle University’s engagement with Aurora has grown slowly and carefully over the last three years. When it was launched in 2013 we were already facilitating a range of development initiatives and networks specifically for women and had to be sure that Aurora would add to, rather than detract from our own efforts.

Subsequent feedback from Aurora participants has been resoundingly positive. Our Aurora role models and mentors have enjoyed and seen personal benefits, and so our commitment has grown in response. 2016 will see our 12th participant, our 12th mentor and our 9th role model taking part in the programme. The numbers are not large but all have been carefully selected, briefed and mentored. It was essential for us to do this well if we were to maximise the benefits for our aspiring women.

As the Aurora champion I have personally enjoyed meeting and briefing our participants. I have heard about their challenges, their barriers and aspirations and have been able to set them all up with some excellent mentors. My post-Aurora programme evaluation meetings have often been inspiring and revealed stories of increased confidence, seeing things from different perspectives, greater levels of determination, actual promotions and even a personal request for a pay rise!

Our role models have hosted tables at programme days and helped able women to think beyond their own horizons, find their voice and question their assumptions. They have encouraged them to “step up to the plate”.

As an Aurora mentor myself, I particularly enjoyed working with an excellent Aurora participant. She felt stuck career-wise and has subsequently been promoted to a more senior university-level role where she works on a key strategic priority that will have lasting cultural and financial impact on the institution. She is now highly motivated and has achieved her career goals.

At year 3 we are starting to see a critical mass of Aurorans who are keen to continue to promote the “women’s career agenda theme” here at Newcastle. Currently they are thinking about running an annual conference (using some of the Aurora methodologies), continuing with action learning sets and are setting about writing an Aurora feedback report with recommendations for our Executive Board and Diversity Committee.

Another real measure of commitment came when we saw the original Aurora participants becoming Aurora role models or undertaking training so that they could step into the Aurora mentor role with skill and confidence. They clearly want to continue to be engaged with the initiative and be part of its growing impact.

At university-level we are finding that having started by funding a very small number of Aurora places centrally, our faculties are now funding and mentoring participants locally in support of their Athena Swan commitments.

At a more senior level, and as part of our leadership talent and succession efforts, we are monitoring and reporting on the gender balance of our leadership appointments. We are offering coaching for aspiring women and to those who move into more strategic roles. Our university has also recently joined the national 30% Club which pledges us to strive to have 30% of our senior appointments female, with the aim of more gender-balanced committees and boards working even more effectively together for the future.

Lynne Howlett is the Leadership and Management Development Manager at Newcastle University

To find out more about Aurora please visit www.lfhe.ac.uk/aurora