Aurora is Advance HE's leadership development initiative for women. It is run as a unique partnership bringing together leadership experts, higher education providers and research institutes to take positive action to address the under-representation of women in leadership positions in the sector.
Since its launch in 2013, more than 8,300 women from nearly 200 institutions across the UK and Ireland have participated in Aurora. As the programme reaches its 10-year anniversary and is expected to reach the landmark of 10,000 alumnae, Advance HE thought it timely to present key findings from an evaluation conducted by our Insights team in 2022. The evaluation explored the perceptions and experiences of programme alumnae with the overarching aim of describing Aurora’s individual-level impact.
The evaluation followed a mixed-methods approach, combining an online survey with follow-up focus group discussions. The relevant call for participation was sent out to all Aurora alumnae graduating between 2013-2021. The call was received by almost 2,000 alumnae. 110 responded to the survey (6% response rate) between May-July 2022, and 19 of those also took part in five online focus group discussions in October 2022.
The results showed that Aurora participants come from diverse backgrounds, in terms of both personal characteristics and career type and stage. Alumnae found the programme engaging, inspirational – sometimes even ‘transformational’- and would recommend it to fellow peers. Importantly, the benefits of participating in Aurora were independent of whether or not alumnae had engaged with other leadership development activities – in other words, the impact of Aurora was unique.
Similar to previous evaluation findings of the programme, Aurora was perceived as an opportunity for aspiring women leaders to increase their confidence in pursuing leadership options, to develop leadership skills, to acquire tools and techniques to develop a proactive career progression as leaders in HE, and to hear and learn from the experiences of women currently in leadership positions.
Participants were able to highlight a variety of perceived benefits arising from their engagement with Aurora, summarised here:
“[As a result of participating in Aurora], I have worked a lot on myself, on my identity and personal brand, values, and perceptions. This has increased my confidence and enabled me to vocalise my worth and get a promotion.” (Alumna, 2018-19 cohort)
In terms of Aurora highlights, alumnae mentioned that they highly valued:
- the guest speakers and the content of their talks
- the opportunity that the programme provided them to network with peers, both within their own as well as across different institutions and roles
- the action learning sets, practical workshops and mentorship opportunities afforded by the programme
- the protected time that participants can spend towards their personal and professional development.
And here is the point where an Aurora-sceptic might say ‘that’s great that participants enjoyed the programme and found it useful, but what has it done for them in terms of their actual careers?’. Well, let’s put some numbers on Aurora’s impact!
“Aurora helped me to feel less alone in the challenges I was experiencing with progressing my career. It boosted my energy and confidence in renewing my attempts to progress, and as a direct result I secured a management position just as [my] Aurora [participation] was coming to an end.” (Alumna, 2015-16 cohort)
I feel like it’s fair to say that these findings do justice to the naming of this development programme – Aurora literally means dawn in Latin – as it continues to help aspiring women to shine and fulfil their potential! Despite the overall representation of female staff in senior contract levels in higher education increasing from 4.3% in 2012/13 to 5.0% in 2020/21(Advance HE’s annual statistical reports), there is still a long way to go to achieve parity between male and female staff in senior contract levels in UK HE. This is why Aurora is still going strong. For all those women aspiring to be future leaders and drive change in HE and beyond, Aurora is out there waiting for you! Embark on the Aurora journey and be a change agent!
As part of the final participant day for the seven Aurora cohorts Advance HE will be running a networking session for Aurora Champions. This free session will provide an update on Aurora including planning for next year, and allow Champions to feed back on plans for expanding the Aurora alumnae offer based on further insights and reflections from the Aurora alumnae survey and focus groups.
Book your place here
Dr Panagiota (Peny) Sotiropoulou is a Mixed Methods Researcher in Advance HEs’ Insights Team. Since joining Advance HE in 2021, she has been involved in various internal and external programme evaluations as well as projects related to equality, diversity and inclusion considerations in HE.