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.

 

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.

 

 

Book review: Nonprofit Governance

Nonprofit gov

by David Williams

Nonprofit Governance, published last June, discusses governance in ‘nonprofit’ or ‘not-for-profit’ organisations. While sector boundaries are imprecise and can change, the focus is on ‘third sector’ organisations. There are no specific examples of higher education institutions in the book, but it does explore issues of governance that vice-chancellors and their governing bodies will find of interest.

The contributors to the book are largely academic staff working in Australia, North America and the United Kingdom. The book takes a research perspective, but includes case studies illustrating aspects of governance in a specific sector or organisational setting. Nonprofit Governance is a collection of 14 chapter length contributions, organised under five themes. Each theme explores a current area of research on governance.

The reader is reminded that governance is a function and a board is a structure. Further, there is a need to look beyond composition and structure and give attention to board behaviours. Questions about the groups most likely to be represented on Boards, and democratic participation through and beyond Boards are explored.

The behaviour of the board chairs, individual board members and the board as a collective form two of the book’s themes The chapter entitled ‘Board monitoring and judgement as processes of sense making’ considers issues of monitoring non-financial performance and explores ‘sense making’ by Board members. The idea of ‘failures’ of board monitoring being ‘good people struggling to make sense of their circumstances’, rather than ‘bad people making poor decisions’ is introduced.

A review of organisational crises experienced by two museums and two performing arts organisations forms one of the case studies in the book. The problems created by unchallenged trust by the Board of the chief executive and a failure to receive, or demand, adequate and regular information about financial performance are set out. Subsequent financial difficulties resulted in a pivot in the Board’s focus towards financial matters, and away from ‘mission orientated’ activities.

The balance of ‘trust’ and ‘control’ between the Board and the chief executive was changed by the crisis. A period of intensive Board control (i.e. the opposite polarization to the previous situation), during which the organisation’s problems were addressed, was followed by the emergence of a ‘negotiated balance’ to the relationship between the Board and the (and in some cases, a new) chief executive. For some organisations, a further element to post-crisis governance was the remaking of the Board to change the balance of members with business skills and those with professional, sector-specific, expertise.

Not all contributors to the book support a move towards more conventional board structures and membership, and the Community Engagement Model™, is put forward as an alternative approach for at least some nonprofit organisations.

The case of English housing associations illustrates the impact of context on governance. Many associations have assumed responsibilities for what was formerly a public service. As a consequence they have moved from operating as ‘a small-scale complementary service provider to the main provider of social housing over the past 30 years.’ As a result the changes to the scale and complexity of running these organisations has affected governance substantially. Board membership has moved from the inclusion of representative members (e.g. tenants and local authorities), working on a voluntary and unpaid basis, to boards of ‘professional’ independent non-executives now paid for their work. A change from representational to professional boards.

The book goes on to consider ‘multi-level governance’. Contributors distinguish, and discuss, ‘nested’ (intra-) and ‘network’ (inter-organisational) governance in the context of federations and collaborative structures.

Although this book contains many interesting observations and insights, and claims to be written in ‘an accessible manner’, it unlikely to be read by those who might benefit most from some of its contents. As one contributor acknowledges when discussing their own contribution to the book, research on nonprofit governance is frequently published in scholarly journals (or discussed at academic conferences?) and risks never reaching practitioner communities. This is a pity, and a timely reminder to academic researchers of what should be an important purpose of their work.

Nonprofit Governance: innovative perspectives and approaches, edited by Chris Cornforth and Wiillam A Brown.

David Williams is the Leadership Foundation’s governance web editor.