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“I would have been less successful if I hadn’t been on Aurora”

13 Jan 2021 | Advance HE Rosie Fean from the University of Greenwich completed the Aurora programme in 2017-18. Since then she has chaired the university’s staff Women’s Network and moved into change management and communications. We spoke to her to gauge the impact of the programme on her career.

“I did Aurora in 2017-2018, and I loved it.”

Rosie has worked in professional services and project management for most of her career, working in the private sector until she joined the University of Greenwich in 2013, and while she has always had a feminist attitude, it took the Aurora programme to bring out a confidence to become a leader in her institution. She said that one of the key lessons from the programme was recognising where your values are the same as your institution’s and where they are different.

“My mum's a feminist so I was brought up with that kind of foundation and a lot of the content in the first session was introductory. Other people found it a really inspiring experience but I kind of felt like I knew it already.

“That isn’t a criticism of the programme, everyone will take different things from it, but it wasn’t until the second or third session when I really appreciated how useful it would be for me. The session that I absolutely loved was where you work out your values and align them to the university or organisational values. There were a couple of moments in that that made me feel like I was really on to something.

“Part of it was reflecting on who you connect with in your role and then being asked who you were missing from your 'map' of people. I work in professional services a lot and was a project manager at the time and I tend not to have as much to do with academics, but it was only when we were discussing it afterwards that I realised I had missed off the students! The whole reason why we are here and I hadn’t included them. That was an eye-opening moment.

“Aligning your values to your organisation’s values is key in your career because why would you want to work somewhere with values that contradict your own? More generally it was really good to be able to network with other people and other groups you wouldn't ordinarily have the chance to.”

She also says that preparation for Aurora is vital, and credits her own human resources (HR) department for the fantastic work they do with participants before they even get on the programme.

“Our HR team is really good at preparing people to go on Aurora, especially Anna Radley, our Organisation Development & Engagement Manager, who co-ordinates it all. She puts a lot of effort into getting people organised and ready for it. What she does that is particularly successful is getting everybody together to meet up before the programme and speak to alumni of Aurora to share top tips.

“One of those tips is to make sure you sit on a table away from people from your own institution, but also with people who are facing the same issues as you. For example, in my first session I was on a table with mostly academics from one institution, and the issues they were discussing didn’t really connect with me as someone who works in professional services. So use the attendee and Role Model lists shared before the sessions and look out for people who you might want to connect with.”

A key personal takeaway from the programme for Rosie was an appreciation that she was ‘seeking connection with people and the wider institution’, and without seeking that out herself it would never happen. She credits this realisation with her career progression since completing the programme.

“One of the things my Aurora mentor said to me was that I was really seeking connection, and that really struck me. Since then I have moved more into change management and communications, and I also chair the Directorate staff social committee as well, because I realised I'm not going to achieve the connection I’m looking for unless I create it myself.

“The other thing that has happened is that I chair a new Women's Network for staff at the university. I had missed the deadline to volunteer initially and when I got in touch to ask about the communications role, they said that only the Chair was available.

“If I’m being honest, I was hiding behind the comms role so I could still say I was involved, but not really be the person who everyone looks to for leadership. I took a deep breath, accepted that this was my ‘Aurora Moment’ and put myself forward to be the Chair. I have loved every minute, we have created a community of women and in the last year we've done a lot to promote and support women across the university.

“I wouldn't have put myself forward as Chair of the Women's Network had I not been on Aurora, or I might have done it begrudgingly but not as willingly as I did. It was also helpful in preparing me for conversations with my managers about my ‘move’ from Project to Change Management. Without Aurora, I think I would have gone about it in a less collaborative way. It's definitely taught me tactics and techniques and encouraged me to select what works for me from other leaders’ toolkits.”

She also believes that Aurora is vital to allow women a space to come together and talk about the gender equality issues facing the sector.

“I’m lucky in that I work in a really positive team in equality terms, but at the same time other people are not having the same experience. It’s about intersectionality for me as well and making sure that we all work towards the same objective; equality of opportunity, regardless of how you identify.

“Gender equality is not a problem specific to higher education, but there are problems specific to higher education. It’s really important to get women together to talk about that in a safe space because then you realise that you’re not alone and can build up strength to be able to deal with it.”

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Aurora is Advance HE's leadership development initiative for women. It is run as a unique partnership 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. Due to Covid-19 all 2020/21 Aurora activity is taking place online, find out more here.

Advance HE's Women in HE Conference 2021 will consider the key challenges in achieving step change across HE in relation to all gender equality issues through exploration across a range of themes relating to women in HE. Find out more and book your place.

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