Core stability – the journey towards work/life balance

Professor Shân Wareing is pro vice-chancellor for Education and Student Experience at London South Bank University (LSBU) and a professor of Teaching in Higher Education. She recently spoke at Aurora in London and Edinburgh about her personal experience as a senior female leader during Power and Politics. Shân has also recently spoken at Leadership Matters and Preparing for Senior Strategic Leadership. Here, she reflects on her work life balance which formed part of her talk at Aurora this year.

“How we spend our days is how we spend our lives”
(Anne Dillard, quoted in Scott 2003, p80)

Like most people, there are plenty of times I don’t feel I’ve got my work/life balance right, but perhaps strangely, it was worse when I was a lecturer completing my PhD than now when I have three children and more senior job. Along the way, these are some of the ideas and habits that have helped me.

Know your purpose
To work out what balance is right for you, and how to achieve it, you need to be clear about what you want to achieve in life, what your purpose is. In one of my first jobs, a senior colleague had a poster on his wall that said “No one on their death bed wishes they’d spent more time in the office!” and I thought “Hmm, but perhaps I’ll wish I’d achieved more!”  Imagining myself in old age, reflecting on what might cause me to feel pride or regret helped me identify what mattered to me. Being very clear about what is important to you helps you allocate your time and keep things in proportion. That sense of proportion is vital to regulate our emotional response to events at work, which in my experience exact a heavy toll on me if I feel I am living out of alignment with my sense of purpose.

Planning is key
If you know where you’re heading, you can make a plan. And a plan allows you to identify the best opportunities for you, to estimate if you can take on new work without having a melt down, and to prioritise and selectively ignore things.  This is important to protect you from being buffeted by every policy whim, incident, metric, new piece of research, sector panic, and so on. Having a plan helps you spot if you are drawn off your plan too much by fire fighting. I always assume that up to 10% of each day or week will be spent in emergency unplanned reactive activity, but if it starts to increase regularly beyond 10% I need to change my plans to focus more on eliminating the causes of the fire fighting.

The 80:20 Principle
I’ll always have too much work, and probably so will you! In the endless tail of work that is never totally cleared, I have an arbitrary self-imposed cut off point. To minimise the distress of never ticking off everything on my To Do list, the 80:20 principle helps.  If 80% of the benefit comes from 20% of my work and I am fairly sure I’ve done the important 20%, I can go home a bit earlier. Looking at my To Do list regularly from an 80:20 perspective is also important to avoid the feeling that I need to be busy to feel productive. Needing to be busy is the enemy of work/life balance!

Work with and for your team
When the work suddenly piles on, it is easy to feel too busy to talk to people, and I have to fight this instinct! In a management role, and many other roles, people are the job, not an inconvenient extra. The better my team relationships, the more adept my teams are at handling their everyday work and sorting out anything unexpected, which means fewer unpleasant surprises for me. I have found I have a better work/life balance as a manager by talking and listening to my teams. Also working though others is a chance to increase their capability so a win-win for everyone. I could work five hours extra every week but it’s worth a lot less to the university than if I can enable a team of staff to be 10% more productive. To be effective, delegation needs to be in the context of purpose and planning, not random or opportunistic. The better I plan and the higher functioning my teams, the less random rubbish happens, and the earlier we all go home.

Avoid emotional leakage
A lot of stress and unnecessary work comes from emotional leakage – anxiety, fear, hostility, resentment  triggered by projects and people. Work/life balance is not just about what you choose to spend time on, it’s also about how you feel about things. As far as humanly possible it helps not to sink emotion into stuff where it can’t have any positive effect.

Be in the habit of taking care of yourself.
I noticed in pregnancy that what I ate one day had an effect on my mood the next day (protein and vegetables, good; only chocolate all day, bad), and I decided this was probably an exaggerated version of what happens anyway, so I tidied up my eating habits a bit (aiming to avoid chocolate-only days). And I also notice exercise helps my will power.  When I exercise, I’m better able to make myself do stuff I don’t want to do.

Invest in your own growth
Seek out development opportunities that take you in the direction you’re heading.  However experienced and senior you become, you never stop needing to learn. ‘Sharpen the axe’, Stephen Covey calls it.  And to lighten cognitive load (ie fewer things to think about or make decisions about), it really helps to have habits and routines. Barak Obama is reported to have said “You’ll see I wear only gray or blue suits. I’m trying to pare down decisions. I don’t want to make decisions about what I’m eating or wearing. Because I have too many other decisions to make.”

Look for happiness
Another tip from maternity leave and days where it seemed like nothing got done is to remember to pat myself on the back for what I have achieved, not beat myself up for what I haven’t.  Dwelling on what is good about my professional and personal life isn’t about being smug or complacent – it is a necessary exercise in order to sustain optimism for vision and planning.

I still get bad days when it all gets too much, but not so much, and falling back on these principles helps. And for the very impatient readers out there who skimmed to the end, the super-efficient version is: (1) work out what matters to you and do that; and (2) count your blessings.


Further reading
Scott, Susan (2003) Fierce Conversations. London: Piatkus
Covey, Stephen (2004) The 7 habits of highly effective people. London: Simon and Schuster

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.

The Aurora Conference- Thursday 7 June 2018
We are delighted to be launching our fourth Aurora conference.

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 book

Demystifying Finance – Wednesday 18 April 2018
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 book

Leadership Matters
Leadership Matters is our programme for senior women leaders in higher education and will be taking place in Manchester and Bristol in Winter and Spring respectively in 2018. For more information and to book a place please click here.

Preparing for Senior Strategic Leadership
Preparing for Senior Strategic Leadership is one of our most highly regarded programmes. It will take place once more this academic year:

PSSL Summer
Application Deadline: 8 June 2018
Programme Dates: Tuesday 19 – Friday 22 June
Location: Manchester

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

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.

 

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.