Getting more women onto Boards, is there a shortcut?

Alice Johns, programmes and projects manager, Leadership Foundation, shares her insights ahead of the upcoming Women onto Boards events on what to do if you are thinking of taking the first step in applying to join a governing body. These events form part of the Leadership Foundation’s work to promote equality, diversity and inclusion within higher education.

Since 2013, the representation of women on university governing bodies has increased from 32 to 36 per cent and the number of chairs has risen from 12 to 19 per cent (Leadership Foundation for Higher Education, 2016). Although this does show improvement in the diversity of higher education boards, the rate of progress is slow. Much research has been published on the value of having a diverse workforce. Why Diversity Matters (McKinsey, 2015) found that companies in the top quartile for gender diversity are 15% more likely to have financial returns above national industry medians.

As the lead body for leadership, governance, and management within higher education, the Leadership Foundation is committed in working towards gender equality. Building on our work though the Aurora programme, the Women onto Boards initiatives aim to showcase the benefits and opportunities for women who may be thinking about serving as a governor on a higher education or non-executive body in other sectors. This serves as an important element of our work to equip leaders and governors to respond to contextual challenges in higher education.

In 2017, we journeyed to all four nations of the UK and Ireland, with our Women onto Boards series of events; welcoming 5 chairs, 15 speakers and 180 women. In 2018, we will do the same (see here for dates) hoping to reach more women who are looking at taking their first step into applying for a board position. So how can you position yourself to take this step and what are the key things we learnt from last year?

Start somewhere…

Asking to be an observer can be a good gateway if you’re not fully board ready, or a school board is a useful place to start. University committee positions can also build experience without the time commitment and lack of remuneration.

If you are planning to pursue a commercial board make sure it’s related to something you are passionate about and to your values. Remember board positions are a development opportunity but no one is born ‘board ready’.

… but plan ahead and prepare

Think about presenting your CV in a new way, as understanding any gaps in expertise the board may be in need of is key to success. Focus on your transferable skills (strategy, finance, regulation, HR) and the impact you have made within previous organisations. Highlight your connections and contacts, particularly where these are relevant to the institution and where you have cross sector experience.

Never underestimate the importance of networking! Research the organisation or institution and the makeup of the board, and the kinds of skills those sitting on it may already possess. Be prepared to invest time and check the board is functioning well before joining.

… and above all be persistent and passionate

Think of how you can make a difference and add value but be prepared to make several applications before you are accepted so persistence is key! Push yourself to go beyond your comfort zone. As women we are all familiar with imposter syndrome but be confident in your abilities and be tenacious. Displaying drive and passion could make the crucial difference between being selected for interview or not.

Above all, remember it’s about confidence, knowledge and contacts.  With all that has been in the news lately about the effectiveness of higher education governing bodies, there has never been a greater need for diverse and talented candidates. So whilst there is no shortcut, there are ways to position yourself that might make you more likely to get noticed.


For more information about the series including dates, location, pricing and how to book your place visit the Women onto Boards homepage

Find out the latest in governance, including recent publications and what’s next in the Governor Development Programme, via our website

More information about our women-only leadership development programme, Aurora, can be found here

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.