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Longitudinal report highlights the impact of Aurora – Advance HE's leadership development initiative for women

04 Feb 2021 | Advance HE Summary report highlights Aurorans’ positive perceptions of the effects of the programme on their motivation to seek leadership roles, people skills for leadership and proactive career management.

Advance HE has published a summary report alongside the five-year Longitudinal Study of Aurora and the career paths of women in HE conducted Loughborough University (Sarah Barnard, John Arnold, Sara Bosley and Fehmidah Munir). The Longitudinal Study explores the context of women in leadership in higher education, as well as understanding views and progression of participants on Advance HE’s Aurora leadership programme.

Aurora aims to support women and their institutions to fulfil their leadership potential. The study’s purpose has been to:

  • track and analyse the career pathways of women in higher education
  • explore perspectives on (and engagement with) leadership roles and activities
  • explore perceptions of confidence, aspirations, role and professional development, work/life balance, opportunities and challenges to development/progression
  • assess commitment of women to their role, their discipline, their institution and their own professional development.

A total 3796 women contributed to survey data, of whom 3423 participated in Aurora either before or during the study. Out of the 3796 respondents, 47% were professional services staff and 53% were academics, with 86% of respondents working full-time.

Over four time periods (pre-Aurora, three to six months post-Aurora, 15-18 months, and 3+ years post-Aurora), Aurorans were asked to what extent the perceived effects of Aurora had increased as a result of participating in the programme.

The strongest perceived effects related to the motivation to seek out leadership roles (‘I seek out leadership roles), the social skills of leadership (‘I demonstrate the people skills needed for leadership roles’) and proactive career management (‘I engage in leadership at work that is not part of my description/role). Three or more years post-Aurora, 68%, 67% and 64% respondents agreed with these statements respectively.

The report points to cultures and barriers to progression that still persist 3+ years post-Aurora:

  • ‘I openly challenge systems and or culture of my workplace’ – 36% agreed
  • ‘I manage my work-life balance effectively’ – 22% agreed

Disaggregating the data across the protected characteristics, it was found that at both three-six months and 15 to 18 months post-Aurora, Black, Asian and minority ethnic respondents were significantly more likely than staff from other ethnic groups to say that Aurora had led them to challenge the workplace systems and/or culture.

Comparing the career development of those who had participated in Aurora with those who had not, three to six months after Aurora, 18.6% of Aurorans said they had been promoted compared with 7.1% of the comparison group. Similarly, 25.1% of Aurorans reported receiving an accelerated or discretionary increment compared with 16.1% of the comparison group. Three years or more after Aurora, Aurorans were again more likely than the comparison group to report receiving an increment in the last 12 months. Qualitative responses were overwhelmingly positive, with many highlighting increased self-confidence in abilities and capabilities.

Recommendations in the report include:

Institutional leaders and managers should consider supporting, or continue supporting, the Aurora programme by sponsoring women academics and professional services staff to participate

  • Institutions should consider strategies to ensure the skills, confidence and ambition gained from the programme are fully integrated into the workplace. Proactively create ample opportunities for women to disseminate and implement their learnings back into the institution and enact their leadership potential.
  • Ensure that women working part-time or with caring responsibilities continue to be considered for leadership roles, as the extent to which they seek out leadership roles and responsibilities is similar to that of women working full-time.
  • Institutions should commit to an ongoing review of gendered workplace practices and politics that are hampering women’s efforts to benefit from the learnings of the Aurora programme.
  • Women who participate in Aurora should ensure that the ‘collective consciousness’ continues beyond the programme, perhaps by setting up institution specific Aurora ‘graduate’ groups.
  • While the benefits of Aurora evidently endure beyond the end of the programme, consider ways to organically ‘grow’ these learnings further, for example by focussing on career self-management.

Tracy Bell-Reeves, Advance HE Director of Programmes and Events, said, “I am delighted to see that Aurorans report lasting positive perceptions of their programme. The Aurora programme is carefully designed to support women to fulfil their leadership potential so that they develop their careers in a way that benefits both them and their institution. It’s vital that we challenge the barriers to career progression for women, and development opportunities such as Aurora are intrinsic to achieving this. I echo the recommendation in the full report: ‘Do Aurora!’ and enable individuals and institutions to access the benefits that this will afford.”

The Longitudinal Study and the Summary report are available here.

Over 7,000 women have engaged in Aurora since its inception. Led by a team of leadership development experts, participants explore four key areas associated with leadership success: Identity, Impact and Voice; Politics and Influence; Core Leadership Skills; adaptive Leadership Skills alongside action learning sets and mentoring support.

Advance HE’s Connect Benefit Series theme for February 2021 explored the impact of Covid-19 on gender equality in HE. 

We feel it is important for voices to be heard to stimulate debate and share good practice. Blogs on our website are the views of the author and don’t necessarily represent those of Advance HE.

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