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Robert Gordon University - Aurora case study

29 Jul 2018 | Aurora has allowed the university to tap into the hidden potential of a wide variety of women throughout the organisation, in both academic and administrative roles, and to support them in moving forward with their career, be that at Robert Gordon University (RGU) or beyond.

Aurora has enabled women at RGU to continue a journey of personal development and has built their confidence, networks and continued career satisfaction. For the university, it has also allowed us to raise the profile of women and the important contributions they are making at RGU. Alongside this, the university has noted the benefits to more senior women of the mentoring role and the opportunities of the enhanced working relationships between cohorts of women involved in the programme.

Susan MacLennan, senior organisational development specialist, is the Aurora champion for Robert Gordon University

Susan specialises in leadership and management development, coaching and mentoring, and has worked with many academic and professional services staff of all genders and stages in their careers. Susan works closely on the Aurora programme with the Gender Equality Champion, Professor Sarah Pedersen.

How do you select your participants?

Aurora is promoted heavily in the university from early summer in the academic year preceding the application deadline. Information articles are circulated via our in-house e-bulletin, and in the university’s monthly newsletter, and the Aurora banner is displayed on plasma screens and PC screens throughout the campus. Information is disseminated to heads of school and departments asking them to consider staff who may be suitable for Aurora.

In addition to these formal channels, the new RGU Women’s Network hosted an information event in early September 2016 where previous ‘Aurorans’ were invited to share their experience of the programme with women interested in applying. This resulted in an increase in applications over the previous year and also enabled applicants to get advice and support from past participants. The event was very well received and the Network will run this every year, but we will move it forward to take place at the end of the academic year prior to the deadline.

As a mark of the importance of Aurora, the university provides central funding for 10 women to attend each year. This was instigated in 2016/17 after it became clear that there was a need to ensure that applicants did not have to rely on funding being available at School or Department level.

In order to promote fair and equal access to Aurora for all women, a selection panel now considers the nominations and funds the 10 women who make the most compelling applications, however the total number of places awarded is normally above 10 as Heads will often agree to fund shortlisted applicants directly. Applicants are asked to provide a statement outlining what they hope to gain from the programme, how they hope participation in Aurora will impact their career development and why they feel that they should receive central funding.

How do you match your participants with mentors?

All senior women in the university, and some external individuals, are approached early in the year and asked if they would be interested in mentoring an Auroran. This bank of interested mentors is circulated along with their biographies to the Aurora delegates who are asked to rank their preferences for a mentor. To date, it has been relatively straightforward to meet the Aurorans’ preference for a mentor. Some mentors are happy to accept more than one mentee, and we have a cohort of experienced mentors who have worked with Aurorans over a number of years. The Aurorans often state that the mentoring experience is an important and valuable factor of the programme, often resulting in friendships and professional collaborations. The mentors also value the opportunity to help the Auroran meet their objectives and realise their potential.

What is the impact of Aurora for your institution?

We see the impact of Aurora in the achievements of past and present Aurorans, their contribution to the leadership of the university and their continued commitment to career development, both for themselves and for other women at RGU. Several past and present Aurorans were involved in the establishment of the RGU Women’s Network in early 2016, which was founded to facilitate networking and support amongst women employed by the university.

In winter 2016/17 the Women’s Network and the Gender Equality Champion produced a publication entitled ‘Celebrating Women at RGU: Aurora edition’, which showcased six case studies of Aurorans at RGU. This publication was produced in print and online and was publicised throughout the university and in the press. In January 2017 a motion was introduced in the Scottish Parliament commending RGU for the publication and its wider commitment to Aurora.

What is the impact for your participants?

Karen Cross has recently been promoted to academic strategic lead in the School of Cultural and Creative Business. She says:

“It was great to hear stories from other women on the course and to benefit from the knowledge, expertise and wisdom of the Aurora mentors. The programme helped me to take a step back from my very busy role and focus on my future. I also feel that the Aurora programme has helped me to become more aware of my managerial role, and the impact that I can have on those with whom I work.”

Marianthi Leon undertook the Aurora programme when she was employed as a Research Fellow at RGU. She is now a lecturer on project and construction management at the Scott Sutherland School of Architecture and the Built Environment. She feels that Aurora helped her to develop, identify and crystallise her aims within academia and find her voice in expressing these to the right people. She says it also assisted with managing work, leadership responsibilities, politics and relations.

Rhona McComiskie leads the university’s strategic commitment to wider access. She says:

“The Aurora programme has helped me to think about leadership and consider my own leadership style. It has helped me to reflect and think about who I want to be. More specifically it has given me practical leadership tips that will continue to benefit me as I face new challenges and situations.”

How has Aurora evolved at your institution?

Initially, applications to Aurora were dominated by women in academia, but over the past three years we are increasingly seeing a balance between academia and support staff. The provision of central funding for places has allowed the selection process to be more equitable, as there is no longer a dependence on a Head of School or Department to find the funding to allow participation.

The number of applicants has also grown over time as we improve the promotion of the opportunity and as more women go through the programme and their colleagues hear about the experience. The ‘Celebrating Women at RGU: Aurora edition’ has also helped to raise the profile of the programme within the institution. An exhibition of all three ‘Celebrating Women at RGU’ publications will be launched as part of our celebrations of International Women’s Day 2017.

We now have a pool of 37 women who have been through Aurora since its inception in 2013 and these women are evolving their careers in the institution through promotions and taking on central roles. We are also now matching our past Aurorans as mentors to current Aurorans; it’s good to see the process come full circle.

The take-away...

"The allocation of central funding facilitates a more equitable selection process. Additionally, holding an event at which previous Aurorans talk openly about their involvement with the programme and share their experiences encourages other women to apply."

Want to know more?

Find out more about Aurora here.

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