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. 

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.

Bringing something to the (coffee) table: the mutual benefits of sponsorship

Participants on the Diversifying Leadership Programme are assigned a career sponsor. In this post, programme director Jannett Morgan reflects an early sponsorship encounter.

When a senior leader invited me to “go for a coffee”, little did I know it would be the beginning of a fruitful and long-lasting sponsorship relationship. I met “Kevin” (not his real name) many years ago while on a career development programme for aspiring BME leaders. I was a young(ish) ambitious manager in a successful further education college and highly respected by my colleagues. Kevin was one of the keynote speakers, clearly someone with clout in the sector. And unbeknown to me, I was on Kevin’s radar, hence the coffee invitation.

We would meet up every once in awhile in the foyer of a local hotel. While our meetings were informal in nature, there was always an underlying business brief. I learned to appreciate Kevin’s directness and his desire to discover what made me tick. At first glance one might think a white male and black female had little in common, but our love of family, passion for teaching and belief in social justice revealed similar values. The fact I’m a Spurs fan and he supports that other North London team could have been a deal breaker but we’ve managed to work through this. So far.

As our relationship evolved, Kevin began inviting me to senior-level business meetings and (knowing I was someone who could deliver results) putting my name forward for work. He also invited me to leaving drinks and other social functions – a fascinating study of how leaders behave when off duty.

Sponsorship is not mentorship

Back then I’d not heard the term ‘sponsor’ applied in this way. Mentoring is one of, if not the most favoured development activities offered to BME and other minority ethnic staff groups. Certainly, mentoring from a senior member of staff can be effective in terms of boosting confidence and career upskilling –  a bit like having your own personal Master Yoda at work. So what’s the difference? Sponsorship can be more of a career game changer than mentorship because the sponsor uses his (or her – usually his) influence and power to open doors for you. For me, the spoils of sponsorship to date include visibility, more lucrative contracts and access to a much wider network of associates.

BME staff tend to be over-mentored and under-sponsored. And yet, a study by the Center for Talent Innovation found employees from ethnic minorities who had sponsors were two-thirds more likely than their unsponsored peers to be satisfied with their career progression rate. Sponsorship doesn’t just benefit the protégé, either. What’s in it for the sponsor? Well, Kevin’s interest in me wasn’t based on altruism; the return on his ‘investment’ in me was my technical expertise, cultural capital and operational capacity. Most of all, he knew I was a loyal and trustworthy colleague.

For this reason, participants on the Diversifying Leadership Programme have the opportunity to work with a sponsor and develop a mutually rewarding ‘quid pro quo’ relationship. Like the one I continue to enjoy with Kevin.

Actually, Kevin and I are due another coffee very soon. Given Spurs are ahead in the table, I guess I’m buying.

The Leadership Foundation has published a Sponsor Toolkit for use by senior leaders in UK higher education who are sponsoring participants on the Diversifying Leadership. Diversifying Leadership offers targeted leadership development support to early career BME academics and professional services staff.  The Sponsor Toolkit is available at www.lfhe.ac.uk/DLSponsorToolkit

For details of the next run of the Diversifying Leadership Programme click here

Developing diversity at the University of Birmingham

Odd One Out

In our last blog post we highlighted new research showing that black, asian and minority ethnic (BAME) academics remain under-represented at senior levels in higher education – there are only 20 UK-born black and ethnic minority deputy or pro-vice-chancellors, compared with 530 white ones – and introduced our new Diversifying Academic Leadership Programme.

We’re also supporting an exciting Small Development Project at the University of Birmingham, the Aditi Leadership Programme, that will provide leadership development interventions with the aim of unlocking the potential of aspiring BAME leaders.

The University of Birmingham employs 1,013 staff (16%) from BAME backgrounds, substantially above the sector average of 10.3%. However, this is under representative of the BAME population in Birmingham and there is a clear trend of BAME staff representation decreasing as seniority increases.

Research and focus groups at the university revealed the need for tailored leadership programmes to develop aspiring BAME leaders. The programme that has been planned as a result will equip BAME staff for future leadership roles, providing them with a network and more visible profile in the university. It will also enable the university and the community to share skills and resources, and create future career pathways by demonstrating how the full range of diverse leadership talents can flourish. The project will identify and address any institutional factors that might impede the unlocking of leadership potential in BAME colleagues, which is of tangible benefit to other higher education institutions.

The programme will be blended, encompassing workshops, action learning sets, coaching, mentoring, online and other technological support, project work and secondments.

Each participant will compile a leadership portfolio, demonstrating a deep understanding of their unique talents and how they will use them. The programme will be outward facing and will engage with the local community through initiatives such as mentoring.

The programme has been tested in focus groups and the pilot programme (with 10 BAME staff) is due to conclude in March 2016, with a full roll out next summer.

If you would like to submit your application for our Small Development Projects, please click here. The deadline for applications is Tuesday 5 January 2016. 

The Birmingham cohort of the Diversifying Academic Leadership Programme is fully booked. There are spaces available on our London and Manchester cohorts. To find out more and book, click here.

Could UK Academy be doing more to ensure more BME academics progress to senior levels?

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Why do BME academics remain under-represented at senior levels in HE? That’s one of the questions recently posed by the Time Higher Education (5-11 November 2015). “Despite an increasing number of black and ethnicity staff working in universities, there is a ‘marked lack of diversity at senior levels; lower than average salaries for black academics,” reports John Gill having reviewed the latest datasets from the Equality Challenge Unit. Indeed, Equality Data in Higher Education, published by ECU earlier this month, makes for uncomfortable reading.

It highlights that there are only 20 UK born black and ethnic minority Deputy or Pro Vice-Chancellors, compared with 530 white ones. So what is stopping BME staff from progressing into senior roles – and where should the focus be placed?

In June 2015, the Leadership Foundation, working with the Equality Challenge Unit, held a BME Leadership in HE Summit to explore the findings of a report we’d commissioned, The experience of BME academics in higher education: aspirations in the face of inequality. In it the author, Dr Kalwant Bhopal, Reader in Education, University of Southampton, said ‘there have been some significant advances in achieving race equality in higher education in the UK since the Race Relations Amendment Act 2000, but despite such advances, there is still evidence to suggest that inequalities for staff in higher education persist.’

Bhopal’s paper also set out six practical policy recommendations that senior leaders should consider. They included:

  • Greater thought needs to be given to the possibility of unconscious bias during recruitment and promotion processes
  • Institutions should examine the types of support they offer to colleagues who are considering promotion to senior managerial and academic roles
  • Clear and concise monitoring is needed in selection and recruitment processes

Organisational culture, unconscious and conscious bias, recruitment processes were amongst the list of reasons cited by summit delegates as barriers to progression – all of which resonated with our stimulus paper findings.

It is clear that many shifts need to happen – but there are signs that steps are being taken.  The RACE Equality Charter Mark, which has completed its pilot, aims to get universities to review their promotion processes, consider what they are doing to do to encourage people to apply and how individuals are supported through the process.

However, could more be done to encourage and prepare BME academics to apply for senior roles? This is where the Leadership Foundation’s new Diversifying Academic Leadership Programme seeks to make a contribution.

Designed by Janette Morgan, Associate, Leadership Foundation and Sisonke Partnership, the programme aims to help BME staff accomplish their leadership ambitions and progress their career. Diversifying Academic Leadership, which starts in January 2016, will enable participants to explore leadership concepts, develop their leadership style and provide a space to discuss issues relating to their experience of working in universities.

The first cohort of Diversifying Academic Leadership Programme is fully booked. However there are still places available for the second cohort taking place in Manchester and the third cohort taking place in Birmingham. For more information, visit wwww.lfhe.ac.uk/diversifyingacademicleadership

Download a copy of The experience of BME academics in higher education: aspirations in the face of inequality.