September 16 2019 issue
Developing female leaders - applications now open for AURORA 2020
LJMU is committed to developing future female leaders. The AURORA programme aims to develop the leadership side of women’s careers and address the under-representation of women leaders in the HE sector.
AURORA, run in partnership with universities, offers an exciting opportunity for academic, professional and research staff.
It aims to enable women to think of themselves as future leaders and features workshops, mentoring and self-directed learning.
Strategic Planning Analyst Sarah Dixon did the AURORA programme in 2017. Here, Sarah shares her experiences with us and explains why you should apply to take part.
What made you decide to participate in AURORA?
Within a month of joining LJMU, I attended the Professional Services Conference and one of the sessions was about the AURORA Programme. I am always looking for opportunities to develop and the programme sounded like it would be the perfect fit for me.
When and how did you complete AURORA ?
I was really keen to participate in AURORA but the first time I applied I didn’t get a place, which on reflection was the right decision as I only had a few months HE experience. I applied again the following year and was selected to take part.
You get the choice of location when you sign up, with the programme most local to LJMU usually being held somewhere in the Midlands. I made the decision to sign up to the London cohort as I felt it would be good to go out of my comfort zone from the start! This worked well for me as it removed the security net of having fellow LJMU participants to group with and talk to, so I had to go out and chat to others from the offset.
How did you feel turning up to the first session?
I was really excited to start AURORA and I was fine until I went into the room when the scale of the programme hit me! 250 amazingly talented and successful women in one room sat around tables of 10, with no seating allocation. I felt like the table choice I made would massively impact the rest of the day so I tried to wander around incognito reading name badges, looking for clues to help me make the choice (at the same time everyone else is doing exactly the same thing!). I needn’t have worried, as the table I selected ended up being full of fantastic women, many of whom I am still in contact with.
What were the highlights of the experience?
Being part of a collective group of 250 professional women who all want to progress their careers is both strange and awe-inspiring! The speakers were always inspiring, career stories from senior women that shared their challenges made you feel that you are not alone and that support is there when you need it.
Taking part in an Action Learning set was also a highlight. My group comprised of a mix of academic, research and professional services women which meant we could bring our different experiences of HE to the sessions. The set meetings were intense but rewarding, I won’t lie there were tears as some of the issues that my group were facing were limiting their careers. Talking through the issues as a group and then having the support network to go back into the institutions and tackle them has made a huge difference to some of my action learning set, with promotions, new roles and new research projects.
Since completing AURORA , how has your work life changed/improved?
I applied for and was successful at gaining a promotion to a post within Strategic Planning. AURORA definitely gave me the confidence to apply for the role. Strategic Planning is not an area I had prior experience working in, after graduating from LJMU with a degree and then masters in HRM all my previous roles had been within the HR field. I wanted to expand on my knowledge and experience of HE and the Strategic Planning role was the perfect opportunity to do this. Despite not having HE strategic planning experience I had transferrable skills that directly related to the role and after an intense interview I was delighted to be offered the post.
Taking part in AURORA has made me look at my career and the skills and knowledge I want to gain and improve and take ownership of my own development. This has led to me seeking out a number of opportunities that may not be the traditional form of CPD. To develop my experience of leadership I took a position on the board of a local CIC. I am also now a regular panel member for assessing Athena Swan submissions for Advance HE which is intense as you can review up to 5 submissions in a day but taking part is an excellent way to see what other institutions are doing to support women’s careers.
Gender equality is an area I am really passionate about, so after AURORA I wanted to ensure that I became part of the wider community of women supporting women and girls to fulfil their potential. I volunteer as a mentor to local school girls through the Girls Network - which I recommend to every woman in LJMU! My amazing mentee recently completed a work placement with LJMU’s Corporate Communications team, an opportunity she would not have got without a mentor to champion her and open doors.
What does AURORA mean to you?
It is important that as a sector we continue to support women to develop their careers and continue to address the gender gap across HE. LJMU’s ongoing sponsorship of women to take part in AURORA is just one of many ways that we can push forward and improve the gender balance across all specialities and levels.
What advice would you give to people considering AURORA and why should they sign up?
Aurora is probably the most rewarding and challenging development programme I have ever taken part in. Have a chat with a friendly AURORA alumna, more than one if you can, as different people have different experiences of the programme. My experience was overwhelmingly positive, yes there were some parts that I didn’t connect with as much as others but that is why I think AURORA is great, the variety of activities and speakers means you should always find something that inspires and connects to you personally.
How do you apply?
The Leadership and Development Foundation (LDF) manages the application process and sponsors limited places. Additional places may be funded from devolved local budgets at the discretion of senior managers.
If you are interested in applying for a funded place, discuss your career plan with your line manager prior to completing an application form as you will need a supporting statement from your line manager as well as an endorsement from your Senior Manager
You can access the application form here
Email your completed form to email@example.com by Friday 11 October 2019