In December last year Advance HE announced its plan to pilot its flagship Aurora women’s leadership program in Australia this coming April to support tertiary institutions aiming for gender equity at all levels of their organisation.
The move builds on Advance HE’s long-standing work with universities in Australia which includes its partnership with SAGE (Science in Australia Gender Equality) and its own member institutions in the country; and Advance HE has recently appointed Fiona Whittenbury as its first Head of Partnerships in Australasia.
I’ve previously managed Aurora and I saw the positive impact it had on women as they progressed through the six-month leadership development program.
It’s such a unique offering being for both academics and professionals alike – opening eyes, doors, and inviting different perspectives and an exchange of ideas from those who are outside of your field and sector. Aurora addresses the under-representation of women in leadership positions within the higher education sector. It gives women the tools, resources and helps steer them in the direction they want to go. Often women know they want to move up and into new opportunities, but aren’t sure of the how.
Defining difference between leadership and management
Aurora focuses on your individual strengths and traits and how you can lead at any level. What I always found interesting was the defining difference between leadership and management.
Aurora takes you on a journey of core leadership, politics and influence through to adaptive leadership with self-reflection sprinkled in at each milestone. It’s the reflection piece that’s always my favourite. I love hearing about the light-bulb moments participants have had during the sessions and the immediate action they’re going to take moving forward. Before each delivery day there’s recommended pre-reading to help frame the session. The day consists of presentations, table discussions, interactive activities and the opportunity to hear from inspiring key-note speakers.
Women supporting women
I saw women coming through the program much more confident through both their body language and participation, and they became more open to experiences and opportunities. I’ve been in rooms where participants have helped solve each other’s problems. For example, a woman was saying how she’s passionate about equality, diversity and inclusion and asked the facilitator for advice on how to tap into that network. Before she could respond, someone in the room said “I’ve got a role for you, I’ve been trying to fill it. Let’s chat in the break.” Aurora facilitates these courageous conversations and thus, opportunities – fostering an environment of women supporting women.
I’m always heartened to see the close bonds of the Aurora community which grow even stronger in their action learning set (ALS) groups.
Harness the network
It's an empowering initiative through the content, practical workshops, and the Aurora network. You may have come across the program via an Aurora alumna, a mentor, or the Aurora champions on-the-ground in the institutions. The Aurora network is 10,000 strong and you all have something common.
It’s fantastic that already 200 institutions see the value in this program addressing the under-representation of women in leadership positions. Institutions allow participants to take time out of their ‘business as usual’ to be actively present in their own professional and personal development. At the end of the day, the institution has provided this opportunity supporting participants through both the cost and time away.
You get out what you put in. So engage with the content, the network, the ALS groups. You owe it to yourself to take this opportunity with both hands. You won’t regret it!
Lauren O’Keeffe works in the university sector in Brisbane, Australia and has worked on projects and initiatives in the UK, US, Ireland, Europe and in Australasia for both Advance HE and the higher education sector. Lauren is passionate about women’s leadership and development, and she’s a member of the UN Women chapter in Brisbane.