The 7 leadership blog posts of 2017

As part of our 12 leadership days of Christmas campaign, we are pleased to release our 7 leadership blog posts of the year.

Take some time out this festive season to read some of your colleagues’ favourite blogs of the year and take the opportunity to start thinking about the next steps in your leadership development.

You can follow the campaign by using the hastag #LF12Days 

1. Top 12 things those new to higher education need to know

Rita Walters, marketing and communications coordinator, Leadership Foundation shares the insights from colleagues at the Leadership Foundation on what they believe are the key messages for those new to higher education.

2. Connected leadership: connecting people with purpose
Doug Parkin and Rebecca Nestor explore connected leadership and its applications to the Preparing for Senior Strategic Leadership programme.

3. 8 ways to be a better role model

We asked our Aurora facilitation team: Vijaya Nath, Phyllida Hancock, Rosemary Stamp, Rebecca Nestor, Jenny Garrett and Maeve Lankford how to be a good role model. Based on their experience of facilitating Aurora these insights will help you make the most of your experience and be the best role model you can be.

4. Our mentorship journey: Karen Twomey and Val Cummins
Karen Twomey is a Researcher at Tyndall National Institute, Cork who took part in Aurora in Dublin in 2014-15. Karen chose, Val Cummins, Senior Lecturer at University College Cork to be her mentor for the duration of the programme and the relationship continues to this day. We asked Karen and Val to reflect on their relationship as a mentee and mentor.

5. Coaching: The advice I would give my younger self
Jean Chandler, programme director of Transition to Leadership, shares her thoughts on coaching as a skill set, approaches to leading others, and her own leadership lessons.

6. Reflections from Leadership Matters

Rachael Ross is the course director of Leadership Matters, the Leadership Foundation programme for senior women in higher education. Two years on from its inception, Rachael reflects on why the programme is needed and how it was developed.

7. Up for a challenge: self-directed group learning for leaders

If our role as educators of adults is to enhance their capacity for self-directed learning, how does that apply to leadership development training? Doug Parkin, director of the Leadership Foundation’s Future Professional Directors programme, reflects on his experience of designing transformational self-directed group learning activities for leaders.

Let us know your favourite via Twitter #LF12Days or in the comments below.


You can read more of the Leadership Foundation blogs here. 

The full list of programmes at the Leadership Foundation can be found here. 

Being hefty

Dr Jennifer Leigh is a lecturer in Higher Education and Academic Practice at the University of Kent who is taking part in Aurora during 2017-18. Here, she reflects on how her own research and background in embodiment and somatic movement can help Aurorans present themselves as leaders.

When I attended the first Aurora day on Identity, Impact and Voice I was struck by how the facilitator, Phyllida Hancock, spoke about the need to be ‘hefty’. One of the exercises was to stand up and take on the physical presence of a role model whose characteristics we wished to emulate. This idea, that our bodies portray and instil us with certain traits is not a new one. It resonated with me because of my work on embodiment and creative approaches to research and I wanted to share with the Aurora community how to bring this idea of changing your physicality and movement into your everyday work life.

Before becoming an academic, I qualified as an accredited somatic movement therapist and educator and registered yoga teacher, and I used embodied anatomy, developmental play and movement patterns in order to work in private practice. Movement work can be used educationally, therapeutically, for research and just because it makes you feel good. Somatic movement therapy can be used therapeutically to deal with trauma or injury or it can be used creatively to stimulate material for choreography, improvisation or composition. Our bodies can incorporate and store all kinds of information that can tell us and others about what we are thinking and feeling, and how we might go about handling different situations.

What is somatic movement?

Whilst many people might be familiar with yoga, somatic movement therapy is a little different.  Somatic movement covers a wide range of different practices, but all focus on developing a sense of self-awareness and presence in the embodied self. That is, an awareness of the moving, breathing, sensing, feeling body and an awareness of the thoughts, feelings, emotions and projections that flow through our minds.

It is then important to bring that awareness into consciousness and to accept where we are and who we are in any given moment. From an educational or therapeutic point of view it is only when we have that acceptance that it is possible to facilitate change. By developing an awareness of ourselves, we are able to see the options we have, and choose how we want to move forward. This might be something very body based, such as the way that we hold our head, or move our arm. Rather than moving purely by habit in a way that might be causing tension and pain in our joints, by reacting to stimuli, we can choose how we respond. Perhaps we choose how to sit, maybe to use our internal organs to support our spines and to free our necks and shoulders to move gracefully and lightly, or to initiate a movement from the periphery or the core. Gaining access to these choices starts with awareness and acceptance of where we are. Interrogation into why we have developed habitual patterns that limit our movement or thoughts can release trauma, and shed light on past experiences. Somatic movement therapy and education can help us to increase our embodied self-awareness and give us freedom to choose about how we act.

How does this relate to leadership, academia, or research?   

Anything that increases our self-awareness can help us to develop our reflexivity. Reflexivity and reflective practice are vital to leadership, teaching, and research. We need to be aware of how we hold ourselves and present to others and consciously choose how we act in response to people or events rather than blindly reacting out of habitual patterns. Learning to reflect isn’t easy, as it is not something that can be done in isolation.  Somatic or embodied practices give us material to reflect on, which allows us to then change what we do and consequently to progress (Leigh & Bailey, 2013).

On a purely practical level, this work can also help us day-to-day. First to notice and to become aware. For example: how are you breathing? Is it smooth, even, or less so? Where are your shoulders? Without judging, notice where they are and then choose where you want them to be. Be aware of your feet, of the points of contact with the earth. How does your body react to the people around you? What thoughts, feelings or images do you have in response to them? Can you unpick why or where they come from? Only once you are aware can you begin to change.

Our bodies, our meaty, breathy, visceral bodies, also inform our language and how we talk.  We speak of people getting under our skin, feeling touchy or sensitive, listening to ‘gut feelings’ or Phyllida’s idea of being hefty. What does this mean or feel like?

My own research takes a particularly embodied stance in that I use my background and perspective as a practitioner to ask and to answer embodied research questions. Rather than asking participants to answer surveys, or interviews, I have recently conducted a study funded by the Society for Research into Higher Education exploring embodied academic identity, where I met academics in studio spaces and used creative methods including film and visual materials to encourage them to share elements around their identity. These methods allow for a deep process of reflection, but do raise many questions, particularly around where the boundaries of this work are with respect to research and therapy, and where the resulting data fit on the line between art and outputs for analysis.

As someone new to Aurora I look forward to attending the next days as part of the London Autumn cohort. I’d love to meet fellow Aurorans who are interested in my research so please do get in touch. I would love to bring these embodied research ideas into collaboration with someone to explore how leadership is developed, using embodied research methods to ask embodied research questions.


About Aurora
Aurora is the Leadership Foundation’s women-only leadership development programme. Aurora was created in 2013 in response to our own research that shows that women are under-represented in senior leadership positions and identified actions that could be taken to change this. Since Aurora began in 2013 we have welcomed 3,477 women from 139 universities and sector bodies, with 1029 women attending in 2016-17 alone.

Dr Jennifer Leigh
You can follow Jennifer’s blog here and also learn more via her Twitter.

Dates, location and booking
Aurora will take place in Birmingham, Cardiff, Edinburgh, Dublin and London in 2017-18. Book a place here.

Onwards and Upwards study
The first year summary of the five-year longitudinal study of Aurora can be accessed here: Onwards and Upwards year one summary.

The Aurora Conference- Thursday 7 June 2018
We are delighted to be launching our fourth Aurora conference focusing on learning from others – examining what others outside higher education are doing, and what we can learn from them to support women in leadership within the sector.

Participants include, but are not limited to:

  • Aurora participants (current and alumnae)
  •  Aurora champions
  • Aurora role models
  • Aurora mentors
  • People working in/leading equality and diversity

Find out more and apply

Demystifying Finance for Aurorans- Wednesday 18 April 2018
Is for women in higher education who want to improve their understanding of finance in higher education and develop financial management skills.

Find out more and apply.

Contact us
If you would like to know more about Aurora please get in touch at aurora@lfhe.ac.uk.

Aurora Book Club

Anne-Marie Slaughter’s Unfinished Business

Following on from discussions with the Aurora community, this summer we launched the Aurora Book Club, an online community of Aurorans, role models, mentors and champions. The first book was chosen by the Aurora team which was Unfinished Business by Anne-Marie Slaughter. Here we reflect on some of the key discussion points.

Unfinished Business provided a rich topic for conversation amongst the Aurora community with discussion topics ranging from the half-truths of having it all, caregiving, being ‘time-macho’ in the workplace and whether the book being USA-centric impacted enjoyment.

Half-truths
Slaughter discusses three half-truths which affect working women’s lives.

  • You can have it all if you are committed enough to your career
  • You can have it all if you marry the right person
  • You can have it all if you sequence it right

Like Slaughter, the group agreed that these were not necessarily impossibilities but certainly beyond control.

One participant reflected that although all three were true in her case that she put this down purely to luck, and reflected that a member of her family had been less lucky. It was clear though that all participants career experiences were very different.

Slaughter discusses caregiving and parental leave when she writes about both sequencing it right and commitment. Book club participants noted that this was something that affected those living in the UK very differently to those in America. In the UK and Ireland paid maternity and paid paternity (UK only) leave are statutory whereas in the USA there is no statutory leave given. The participants reflected anecdotally on how in Scandinavian countries there is a greater gender balance of how this care is legally divided. Which may perhaps give a greater weight to the value of care as it is not something so gendered.

But there are clearly two sides to every story, as one member of the group cited an article in Time Magazine which suggested that increased maternity rights also increase how hard the glass ceiling is.

Time-macho
Slaughter discusses a half-truth in the workplace which is the idea that the ‘person who works longest works best’ and in some workplaces people are ‘time macho’ by being the first in and the last out of the office.

The participants absolutely saw the value of being seen to be working in the workplace, but not necessarily working all hours of the day. They discussed how flexible working can make practical things like arranging meetings a real challenge. Practical advice from the group included choosing events or moments to be seen outside of your working hours that work around your life. You are therefore seen to be going above and beyond, but are less likely to be pressured into additional work that doesn’t fit with you. Another suggestion was the need for institutions to change their culture to allow staff to be able to digitally switch off and concentrate on work, something that had been successfully achieved for some.

A men’s movement
Slaughter is clear that equality in the workplace is not just a women’s issue and that there also needs to be a men’s movement.

This was something that on the whole all participants agreed with and that men should be respected as caregivers. There was some issue with the phrase ‘men’s movement’ with the suggestion that simply Slaughter means more male feminists.

However, Slaughter argues that sometimes, as women, we use the wrong vocabulary and that men do need to be able to be respected in more stereotypically female roles. We remark on ‘halo’ dads who provide care for, or ‘babysit’ their children, but this is detrimental language as it suggests that women are carers and that men who provide care are unusual, or emasculated. Vocabulary is something to be more mindful of and one participant suggested that in her own area of expertise (economics), they needed to think more carefully about language and vocabulary to appeal to female students- the language needs to be less macho.

Conclusion
Despite cultural differences with the author, Unfinished Business seemed to be well received. Phrases that slaughter uses such as ‘work-life fit’ as opposed to ‘work-life balance’ were relevant changes to a UK and Irish audience.

The Aurora Book Club participants chose Fierce Conversations by Susan Scott as the next book for discussion. The online discussion will take place on Friday 26 January at MIDDAY.


About Aurora
Aurora is the Leadership Foundation’s women-only leadership development programme. Aurora was created in 2013 in response to our own research that shows that women are under-represented in senior leadership positions and identified actions that could be taken to change this. Since Aurora began in 2013 we have welcomed 3,477 women from 139 universities and sector bodies, with 1029 women attending in 2016-17 alone.

Dates, location and booking
Aurora will take place in Birmingham, Cardiff, Edinburgh, Dublin and London in 2017-18. Book a place here.

Onwards and Upwards study
The first year summary of the five-year longitudinal study of Aurora can be accessed here: Onwards and Upwards year one summary.

The Aurora Conference- Thursday 7 June 2018
We are delighted to be launching our fourth Aurora conference focusing on learning from others – examining what others outside higher education are doing, and what we can learn from them to support women in leadership within the sector.

Participants include, but are not limited to:

  • Aurora participants (current and alumnae)
  •  Aurora champions
  • Aurora role models
  • Aurora mentors
  • People working in/leading equality and diversity

Find out more and apply

The Aurora Book Club
If you are an Auroran, role model, mentor, or champion please do join us in the Aurora Book Club. The book club was created as a direct response to alumnae feedback, where Aurorans wanted an opportunity to continue their learning beyond the programme.

Every two months, Aurorans will be encouraged to read a different leadership book and discuss it in a closed Facebook group.

Participants are also encouraged to have face-to-face discussions on an institutional or regional level or online discussions via Skype or Google Chat.

Join the book club now.

Demystifying Finance for Aurorans- Wednesday 18 April 2018
Is for women in higher education who want to improve their understanding of finance in higher education and develop financial management skills.

Find out more and apply.

Contact us
If you would like to know more about Aurora please get in touch at aurora@lfhe.ac.uk.

 

Reflections from Aurora

Dr Klara Wanelik

Picture credit: Photo of ‘value map’ from Aurora 2016-17 in London by Dr Zenobia Lewis, Senior Lecturer in the School of Life Sciences, University of Liverpool.

Dr Klara Wanelik is a Postdoctoral Researcher Associate at the Institute of Integrative Biology, University of Liverpool.  She took part in Aurora in Leeds during 2016-17. She reflects on the two aspects of Aurora she found most interesting: core values and the importance of narrative and starting with why.

In March this year I embarked on a leadership training course for women in higher education, called Aurora. You might be thinking, why would I go on a course like this? Well, as an early career researcher (ECR) in science, I am very concerned by statistics like this:

“The proportion of female students (55%) and graduates (59%) in the EU exceeds that of male students, but women represent only 18% of grade A (professorial) academic staff” (Louise Morley, 2013)

The aim of Aurora is to take positive action to address this under-representation of women in leadership positions in higher education.

I attended four development days at the Royal Armouries Museum in Leeds (quite appropriate really!) and met hundreds of women from the sector. It has taken me a while to digest all of this but I think I am finally starting to see the light at the end of the tunnel. I include some of my thoughts in this blog post with the hope of inspiring other female ECRs, and more generally inspiring others, to start questioning what it means to be a good a leader. I focus on two aspects of the programme that I found particularly useful. This choice is personal, and I’m sure that other women attending the programme would choose differently. But here goes…

Exploring core values

During the session, Core Leadership Skills, we were given a list of universal human values and asked to circle those that were most important to us: our ‘core values’. At the end of the session, each group pooled their results together on a kind of ‘value map’ (see image above), where values were grouped under terms like universalism, benevolence and power. What I found particularly striking was that our table had circled lots of values in the former two groups (like equality, honesty and loyalty) but the power section of the map (with words like social recognition, public image and authority) was completely empty. And it wasn’t just our table, a colleague of mine who attended the programme in London, told me the same happened there (see image above).

How could this be? How could these women who had come together for the sole purpose of developing their leadership skills (some of them already in senior leadership positions) not feel that they identified with any of these values? There are two possible answers: 1) they didn’t feel comfortable sharing these values, or 2) they genuinely didn’t prioritise them. Given the spirit of openness that Aurora encourages, I assume that the second answer is the most likely. This isn’t a gender-specific phenomenon – we heard that men in leadership positions who completed this activity also highlighted the non-power-related values. This, I think, calls into question what we think a leader should be. Many of us still hang on to a traditional view of a leader being a dominating individual, with full authority, who is driven to do what he/she does for the recognition, wealth and/or the power they receive in return. This is a view we really need to shift. By doing this activity, we were being encouraged to consider the individuality of leadership and the importance of authenticity; staying true to your values, while leading. As the facilitator, Rebecca Nestor, suggested, the best leaders are those that create the next generation of leaders. I think this is perhaps a more useful (and interesting) view of leadership than the traditional one.

Importance of storytelling and leading with ‘why’

In another session we learnt about the importance of storytelling in leadership. This sounded a bit odd to me at first, I’d never really put the two together but then I got talking to a woman on my table who proceeded to tell me about some charity work she was doing, somewhat connected to her work as a lawyer. The way she created a narrative about the people she was helping and what she was doing to help them captured my attention. I wanted to sign up straight away, even though I would have been of very little help (I’m a biologist not a lawyer!) It was at this moment though, when she was masterfully telling her story, that I realised how powerful storytelling could be in getting people to do what you want them to do.

The tables were turned on another occasion, after I watched a TED talk by Simon Sinek, which was recommended as part of the pre-work for an Aurora session. In his talk, Simon Sinek talks about inspiring action by leading with why we’re doing something, rather than how or what exactly we’re doing: “people don’t buy what we do, they buy why we do it”. Soon after watching this talk I had the opportunity to re-formulate my ‘elevator pitch’ about the research that I do. There is a real diversity of women on the Aurora programme, from professional services to academics, and from all different fields. On this occasion, I happened to be sat next to (another) lawyer, and to be honest, I was pretty sceptical about being able to really (genuinely) get her on board. To my surprise, my pitch did get her genuinely excited about my research and asking multiple questions. I still remember the look on her face! I’ll be trying my best to lead with ‘why’ from now on.

Thank you

I would like to thank the Institute of Integrative Biology for funding my place on the Aurora programme, all the inspirational women I met during my time on Aurora, and my colleagues for supporting me along the way. Special thanks to Dr Zenobia Lewis, who provided much needed encouragement and support and pushed me to re-apply for Aurora after I was initially unsuccessful in securing a place.

If you are a female ECR like me, I hope this post will encourage you to give the Aurora programme a go and to start thinking of yourself as a leader!

This is an edited version of a post originally published on the ‘Institute of Integrative Biology and the School of Life Sciences at the University of Liverpool’ blog on 6 November 2017. The original version is available here.


About Aurora
Aurora is the Leadership Foundation’s women-only leadership development programme. Aurora was created in 2013 in response to our own research that shows that women are under-represented in senior leadership positions and identified actions that could be taken to change this. Since Aurora began in 2013 we have welcomed 3,477 women from 139 universities and sector bodies, with 1029 women attending in 2016-17 alone. 

Dates, location and booking
Aurora will take place in Birmingham, Cardiff, Edinburgh, Dublin and London in 2017-18. Book a place here.

Onwards and Upwards study
The first year summary of the five-year longitudinal study of Aurora can be accessed here: Onwards and Upwards year one summary.

The Aurora Conference- Thursday 7 June 2018
We are delighted to be launching our fourth Aurora conference focusing on learning from others – examining what others outside higher education are doing, and what we can learn from them to support women in leadership within the sector.
Participants include, but are not limited to:
• Aurora participants (current and alumnae)
• Aurora champions
• Aurora role models
• Aurora mentors
• People working in/leading equality and diversity
Find out more and apply

Demystifying Finance for Aurorans- Wednesday 18 April 2018
Is for women in higher education who want to improve their understanding of finance in higher education and develop financial management skills.
Find out more and apply.

Contact us
If you would like to know more about Aurora please get in touch at aurora@lfhe.ac.uk.

 

Book review: Inferior by Angela Saini

Julia Murphy is HR Officer at the Scottish Funding Council who took part in Aurora in Glasgow in 2015-16.

She gave this reflection of her experience:  “I work in Human Resources and taking part in Aurora has made me more focussed in my equality and diversity work. There were several different parts of the Aurora programme that I found interesting and that have helped me adapt my approach to work and the way I look at myself. Most of the time, just the knowledge that I have been on the Aurora programme acts as a sort of Dumbo’s feather – it’s something I remind myself of when I need a confidence boost.”

Julia gives her perspective on Angela Saini’s latest book: ‘Inferior: How Science Got Women Wrong’.

Saini’s achievement as a science writer is to produce work that is accessible and engaging without being simplistic or patronising – particularly since the over simplification of academic study is one of areas being challenged by this book. What begins as a lamentation for the dearth of women in science becomes a wide-ranging deconstruction of our preconceptions about gender.

Each chapter looks at a different topic, with a similar structure. We begin with the background to commonly accepted explanations for the differences between men and women. Saini explores their limitations and describes alternative theories, studies and observations. I was struck by “Women’s Work”, which examines the perception of men as hunters and providers while women stay home with children. We are taught the challenges of using primate studies to understand ancient humans – other primates being less likely than humans to share childcare. We visit societies where women hunt and also consider the vital role of the gatherer to human survival.

After reading Inferior, I will be more sceptical when coming across headlines screaming “Study Proves That….”. We are shown that when it comes to human brains, bodies and society, we are only scratching the surface of what there is to learn. We understand how readily accepted hypotheses often originate in observations of the world around us rather than the laboratory. This should not be seen as undermining the value of research, rather it shines a light on the complexities of the research environment. The intricate examination and repetition that is needed to draw substantive conclusions can be endangered when we put too much pressure on scientists to bring us quick, headline-friendly discoveries.

One could argue that in the modern world of knowledge work and domestic appliances the biological and prehistoric differences between men and women don’t matter. At the same time, there are examples of how “nature” can actually be used to maintain inequality in the face of these advances – women find themselves described as being naturally better suited to types of work that are lower paid, better suited to being primary caregivers.

In this book there is often no conclusion drawn about what is the “right” theory, showing how much is still up for debate and discovery, but it is heartening to see a different perspective and know that stereotypes we come across are not set in stone. Crucially, Saini demonstrates how even the most seemingly objective of disciplines can be compromised when women do not participate equally and contribute equally to them.

In her writing style Saini blends scientific information with anecdotes and examples of gender relations in practice. We learn about people’s personalities as well as about the work they produce – underlining the point that research does not exist in a vacuum. The result is an intelligent, honest and thought-provoking read.


Julia was is one of three Aurora alumnae who have reviewed Angela Saini’s book. You can read the other reviews here:

If you are an Auroran, an Aurora champion or an Aurora role model you can join the Aurora Book Club online now.

Aurora is the Leadership Foundation’s women-only leadership development programme. Aurora was created in 2013 in response to our own research which highlighted women’s under-representation in senior leadership positions and identified actions that could be taken to address this.

Dates, locations and booking for Aurora 2017-18 are available here.

 

 

Leslie Shoemaker: inspired by Aurora

Leslie Shoemaker is a lecturer at Dublin Institute of Technology. She took part in Aurora Dublin in 2016-17. Since completing Aurora, Leslie has set up the ESTeEM (Equality in Science and Technology by Engaged Engineering Mentoring) programme at her campus and is now the programme’s coordinator. Here Leslie reflects on how she was able to use elements from Aurora, such as mentorship, to inspire ESTeEM’s format.

When the application process opened for Aurora I knew immediately this was not only something I wanted to do but something I had to do. I was stuck in a rut at work for a variety of reasons. Although I had managed large projects and events in the past I felt like I was lacking in formal training in leadership and management so didn’t have the confidence to know whether I was doing it right. I have picked up leadership skills over the years but I hadn’t taken the time to reflect on why I needed these skills and how I had acquired them. My leadership decisions had an effect on other individuals as well as the projects I was working on, I didn’t want to create an adverse impact due to my lack of knowledge about leadership.

When writing my application, I realised that although I wanted these leadership skills for myself, I could also try and become an ‘everyday’ role model for my female students. The module I teach is for first year students on the soft skills needed in Computer Science, Engineering and Science subjects. It would not be uncommon to have small numbers of female students, if any at all, in what can be very male dominated classes. I began to see how Aurora was an opportunity to bring my knowledge back to these young women and make a positive impact in their lives. I just needed to work out how I could do this effectively.

I was delighted when I found out my Aurora application had been successful.

The Aurora sessions and reading materials provided me with an opportunity to step back and reflect while also learning new leadership tips, tools, and skills. I began to understand how ‘normal’ my thoughts, feelings and experiences were. But regardless of how much I was getting out of these sessions for myself, I couldn’t shake the niggling feeling there was more I could do for my female students.

In March 2017 when I was a little over halfway through the programme, I had a brain wave: adapt the Aurora model to a target audience of female students studying Engineering on the site where I work (the Dublin Institute of Technology has two Engineering campuses). During Aurora each participant is given a mentor. My idea was to recruit female Engineers who are working in industry to mentor young women who are studying engineering. The mentoring would happen over a series of five lunches each academic year and the mentor would ideally stay with the student for the duration of her academic career in this college. After a couple of phone calls and meetings not only was my immediate boss behind me but I had two major international engineering companies, Arup and Schneider Electric, sign up to the project. The ESTeEM programme, Equality in Science and Technology by Engaged Engineering Mentoring, was born.

On 9 October 2017 we had our launch and our first lunch. Currently I have 35 young women participating in the initiative and they range from first year students right through to post graduate students. In addition, there are fourteen female mentors from Schneider Electric and Arup who are graciously giving their time, knowledge and experience to this programme. The buzz in the room during this first lunch was amazing. Both the mentors and the students were clearly excited during the event and the feedback from everyone has been overwhelmingly positive.

Despite this great start I recognise I still have some battles to fight such as helping some of the current female engineering students see why a programme like this is of relevance (I have had about a 60% uptake on the programme from the students who are studying engineering on this campus) and I would like to expand the ESTeEM programme to the other engineering campus. With thanks to Aurora I have a better idea of how to approach the challenges I face but know that I will get there.

I also understand that I will make mistakes along the way but I know this is part of my leadership development. The standards I was holding myself to in order to ‘prove’ my worth because I am a woman working in a male dominated area are not as rigid these days, which is a nice change for me (and very possibly others who I work with). I am thankful I was provided with the opportunity to take time out to learn more about myself and leadership but I am hopeful that ESTeEM will make a difference in the same way for my students Aurora has for me.

So fellow Auroran’s embrace the opportunities that come your way or the ones that you create and feel able to take risks, even if it means feeling really uncomfortable because that will pass in time. We are often our own worst critics, let’s show ourselves some self-compassion.


If you would like to find out more about ESTeEM you can contact Leslie here.

Aurora is the Leadership Foundation’s women-only leadership development programme. Aurora was created in 2013 in response to our own research which highlighted women’s under-representation in senior leadership positions and identified actions that could be taken to address this.

Dates, locations and booking for Aurora 2017-18 are available here.

Our mentorship journey: Cathie Barnett and Simon Chandler-Wilde

Catherine (Cathie) Barnett is a senior research fellow in the Department of Archaeology at the University of Reading who took part in Aurora London in 2016-17. Following advice from a role model she decided to ask for a mentor outside of her discipline and was matched with Simon Chandler-Wilde, dean of diversity and inclusion and professor of applied mathematics at the University of Reading. Here they reflect on their relationship as mentee and mentor

Firstly, tell us a little about yourself

Cathie: My original background was in both environmental and archaeological sciences and I worked in management of environmental impact assessments for an engineering company before coming to Reading. After completing my PhD I worked in a commercial archaeological unit as the Senior Geoarchaeologist then Principal Archaeological Scientist before returning to Reading in 2014 to take up this position. Not a traditional academic and research path by any means.

My current role is split between archaeological science research and project management of a large Iron Age Landscape project named Silchester Environs. I also line manage an excellent team of archaeologists and specialists who work on a series of Silchester excavation and post-excavation projects, and report in turn to the Principal Investigator Prof. Mike Fulford.

I’m married to a land manager for the Wildlife Trust and we have 3 boisterous little boys so the outdoors features heavily in my life. They are wonderful and exhausting, so I’m fortunate to have negotiated an unusual working pattern which allows me to balance home life with them and still deliver on a busy work schedule.

Simon: I’ve worked in a number of universities – Bradford, Coventry, Brunel, and I joined Reading in 2003. In my role as dean for diversity and inclusion I job share with my colleague Professor Ellie Highwood, the rest of the time I am an academic. My role as dean is a fairly new university role which we took up 2 years ago.

I’m married – my wife has a senior role at Buckinghamshire New University – and have two daughters; one has just finished university and is now a journalist, the other is in her last year at school.

How did your approach the process of mentorship?

Simon: Cathie and I hadn’t met before, we were paired up by Susan Thornton, our Leadership and Talent Development Manager and Aurora Champion, and then we got in contact by email and had a first meet up. Helpfully we were provided with a pro forma that Cathie completed and we discussed, where Cathie wrote down what she hoped to get out of Aurora and having a mentor. This was really helpful to set the scene initially, and to refer back to in order to focus subsequent discussions.

We met four or five times, about monthly, from about Christmas through to May, meeting about an hour each time. There was no huge structure to the meetings, except that the initial pro forma provided a continuing point of reference, and that we would agree at most of these meetings follow-on actions that Cathie would report back on. Also, I continued to ask what had happened on the Aurora front since the previous meeting, and what outcomes/impact that had had. But we also talked about other things, for example we found out that Cathie was going on holiday in Shropshire just a few miles away from where I go for holiday most years, so we discussed holiday activities too!

My approach to being a mentor is to be interested, encouraging and supportive, and to ask open questions, to get a sense of my mentee’s environment, career, aspirations and issues that she/he wants to tackle. I’m also wanting to explore my mentee’s understanding of the next steps ahead, and to ask questions to expand that understanding. As a more experienced mentor I can make my mentee aware of possibilities, and how stuff works, that they just haven’t been exposed to. And it’s really satisfying to seek to build confidence, for example to challenge and support my mentee to have new conversations with colleagues in her environment.

Cathie: One tip given by one of the role models on the first Aurora day was to aim for a senior mentor outside your own department. Good advice!

Simon has been very encouraging and supportive, I’ve enjoyed our meetings and having another in the diary focuses my mind. I have found it particularly useful to talk to someone so familiar with the university procedures and who could take an objective view of how I fit in the system. I particularly value that he asked and let me find my way to answers rather than leading with advice straight away, it’s a lesson I’m going to try and apply when talking to colleagues and students myself.

Simon, what inspired you to become a mentor?

Simon: Firstly I’ve had great mentors myself, people senior to me who have offered advice, encouraged me to stretch myself, and acted as sounding boards. Secondly, in the leadership and people management roles I have had, for example as head of department and head of school, but also at a lower level, e.g. as line manager for research staff working for me, I’ve enjoyed supporting staff in their development. This has included: personal development reviews, supporting applications for promotion, for research grants, and for new jobs. I think it’s a really important part of our role as any sort of people manager to support the staff we work with and help them to grow and develop (and move up to the next level), and it’s a part of the job that gives me great satisfaction.

Has the mentoring relationship continued?

Cathie: Yes it has, both informally, I know Simon will be there with a listening ear and good advice if and when I need him, and we have a more formal follow-up meeting in the diary. He has also kept me informed of further leadership training which he felt I might be interested in, and which I recently took advantage of.

What has been your biggest learning from the process?

Cathie: I’ve learnt a great deal in our discussions and of course through Aurora as a whole. One of my key aims for doing this was to grow in confidence and to gain more of a voice. By nature I’m rather reticent, awkward and apologetic in putting myself forward in areas such as progression and promotion or in challenging ideas with senior colleagues, although I suspect my colleagues don’t realise it. Speaking with my mentor has helped me be a little braver, I have had conversations in the last 6 months I would have shied away from before and have had some really positive outcomes including further leadership training and setting objectives for further progression within the university. I’ve also learnt that there are gaps in the current system which, when discussed openly, the University are keen to tackle and that there’s a great deal of support and encouragement available if you ask.

Simon: I’ve been an Aurora mentor more than once, and certainly I have played a more informal role as mentor on many other occasions. But I am continuing to learn through practice, and continuing to gain confidence as a mentor. Regarding confidence, it is becoming clearer to me – but really this is pretty obvious – that having done a lot of different things in a lot of roles, and having held senior positions where you are forced to understand how the university (and universities generally) work, I do have a lot that I can pass on, and I am well-equipped to know the right questions to ask to get Cathie (and other mentees) reflecting on what they are doing and what might be possible in the future.

Cathie, have you ever been a mentor yourself and would you consider being one in the future?

I have been, and am now a line manager and try to be an advocate and to encourage my colleagues to take up learning opportunities, to stretch themselves and become more personally visible, but I have not been a mentor to someone beyond my immediate team. I would like to offer that in the future, and have recently let my department know I would be happy to contribute by acting as one. I have a better idea now of what would be useful to mentees having gone through the process myself and having had such a positive experience.

Cathie, what was the best piece of advice you received from your mentor?

I’ve had lots of great discussions with Simon but one of the key things I’ve taken from him has been to take stock, to stand back to look at all I have already achieved and how that has already equipped me for leadership roles. On a practical level, that has led to me recording everyday activities more often and considering how these tasks provide direct evidence for my capability in specific research and leadership areas key to progression.

Simon, what piece of advice would you give other aspiring women leaders?

My advice is to stretch and challenge yourself; to develop confidence through stretching yourself and trying new leadership roles; and to remember that the people more senior to you are only slightly (if at all) different, were at your level rather recently, and are much less confident (and competent) than they may come across.

Talk and ask questions about how everything works and what is possible. Get into the habit of saying: “I could do that”.

Finally, good employers should develop their staff and provides routes and opportunities for promotion and development and taking on new roles – and certainly universities are large enough organisations that this should be possible – but do think also about moving employers as a route to progression, and as a means to reinvent yourself. My own last move – 15 miles down the road from Brunel in 2003 – had a huge impact on my career.

And finally, do you have an inspiring woman leader, and if so, who?

Cathie: My primary female role model is an absolute cliché, being my mother. She retrained from being a GP to become a consultant psychiatrist while I was a toddler specifically so that she could take on part time roles and juggle home life with a successful and meaningful career. It taught me that it can be very healthy for children to see the women in their lives following their chosen profession without being absent. I hope I’m achieving the same balance with my boys.

Simon: There are many women that I’ve encountered who have inspired and impressed me, and that I’ve had the pleasure of working alongside, or working for them as my boss.

Let me kick off – maybe a good place to start– with my wife , Dr Rebecca Chandler-Wilde, who is director of Enterprise at Buckinghamshire New University. I admire her judgement, not least in managing people and relationships, her enthusiasm and sense of fun at work and can-do attitude – this coupled with a large dose of realism – and her attitudes to work-life balance, not least her scorn for presenteeism.

I admire hugely my job share Prof Ellie Highwood, who is a leader in her Dean role and, in the rest of her time, is an eminent climate physicist and President of the Royal Meteorological Society. Moreover she does this working part-time (about four days a week), and so is a great role model for flexible working arrangements at the highest levels.

I’m also a great fan, having contributed to her Wikipedia page, of another former President of the Royal Meteorological Society, Professor Dame Julia Slingo FRS, who until recently was the Met Office Chief Scientist, leading a team of many hundreds of first-rate scientists, developing some of the best weather and climate models in the world.


Aurora is the Leadership Foundation’s women-only leadership development programme. Aurora was created in 2013 in response to our own research which highlighted women’s under-representation in senior leadership positions and identified actions that could be taken to address this.

Dates, locations and booking for Aurora 2017-18 are available here.