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Aurora programme inspires new Women’s Network at Ulster

08 Mar 2019 | Deborah Sloan Deborah Sloan, Academic Programme Leader at Ulster University, shares how the Aurora leadership development programme encouraged her to take the lead role in establishing a women’s network at Ulster.

Deborah Sloan, Academic Programme Leader at Ulster University, shares how the Aurora leadership development programme encouraged her to take the lead role in establishing a women’s network at Ulster.  

In 2017/18, I participated in the Aurora leadership programme. Aurora is a unique developmental opportunity for aspiring female leaders in higher education, with a key focus on empowering and equipping women to actively pursue strategic leadership roles. Aurora gave me the opportunity to refresh my perspective - to step outside my own institution and connect with the wider higher education community. Through development days, action learning sets, input from role models and an assigned mentor within Ulster University, I enjoyed a transformational learning experience which gave me an entirely new understanding of my leadership capacity. In essence, I would describe Aurora as a journey with an unknown destination! There are no learning outcomes, no action plans, no assessments, no portfolios, no targets, no KPIs. It is up to each individual participant to decide how to use this journey of self-discovery and the knowledge and insights gained to take the next steps in their career. 

Whilst Aurora seeks to advance at an individual level, it also promotes the importance of advancing others. Leaders are most effective when they pursue purposes aligned to their personal values and oriented towards advancing collective good.

“Leadership is not defined by the exercise of power but by the capacity to increase the sense of power by those led. The most essential work of the leader is to create more leaders”

(Mary Parker Follett).

I recognised that whilst I had a growing confidence in myself as a leader, the changes I wanted to see both for me and for other women could not be achieved solely through enhanced leadership abilities. Building strong relationships alongside sustained cultural and structural change would be essential to increase opportunities for women at Ulster and to create an environment where future female leaders could grow and thrive. 

Ulster University is a huge advocate of the Aurora model and there was already an appetite to further connect women who had engaged in the programme. To date, 60 Ulster staff have completed or are in the process of completing the programme, 18 have acted as role models and 30 are identified as Aurora mentors. Previous participants were keen to explore how the impact of Aurora could be harnessed and so, the idea of a women’s network was born.

On 18 January 2019, the Ulster University Women’s Network was launched. I took a lead role in bringing this to fruition, with support from the University’s People and Culture department. The launch event was attended by 130 women (and men) from across the institution, from four geographically dispersed campuses, from different areas and departments, across different levels and with different roles and responsibilities.  

By listening to a panel of women’s network champions from the private and public sector and hearing personal stories about the value of networks, we were inspired to consider what we would like to see from our network. During breakout sessions, we had conversations focusing on Confidence, Impact, Leadership, Community and Culture. We want to collectively take those conversations further over the next few months. By talking, listening and sharing, we were able to identify common goals and shared aspirations for women at Ulster University.  

Aurora encouraged me to think bigger, to think better and to act courageously. Today, I am proud to call myself an Auroran (an alumni of Aurora). I am delighted to be able to continue my connections this year, by acting as an Aurora role model. And, I am particularly delighted to see the wider impact that Aurora has had through the establishment of a women’s network at Ulster. We are excited about what the future holds!

Aurora is Advance HE's development programme for all people who identify as a woman. It is a unique partnership initiative bringing together leadership experts and higher education institutions to take positive action to address the under-representation of women in leadership positions in the sector.

Find out more about the Aurora programme


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