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Understanding diversity within leadership

08 May 2019 | Shraddha Chaudhary After attending Advance HE’s Aurora programme last autumn, Shraddha Chaudhary - Communications and Engagement Officer at the University of Exeter - shares her thoughts on approaching leadership with an understanding of diversity in circumstances, people and perspectives. 

After attending Advance HE’s Aurora programme last autumn, Shraddha Chaudhary - Communications and Engagement Officer at the University of Exeter - shares her thoughts on approaching leadership with an understanding of diversity in circumstances, people and perspectives. 

I came to the UK as an international student from India, where leadership means something completely different to the UK. In India, leadership meant being the loudest voice in the room and having your opinion carry – now that’s definitely not the case here in Exeter. 

A little bit about my past 

I held various leadership roles as a student, which led to run for Students’ Guild President at the University of Exeter. As the first international student ever to be Guild President, I had a lot of doubts about the kind of leader I wanted to be. The year pushed and shaped my beliefs around leadership, but it wasn’t until I was employed at the University of Exeter and attended the Aurora programme, that I got the space to understand different people within leadership and that it does not have to be so ‘lonely at the top’. 

Aurora – a transformational experience!

From my first Aurora development day to the last, I met various women at different stages of their careers, including some very inspirational speakers that just ‘hit me in the feels’. I told my colleagues that the experience was transformational, not because I’d got a one-stop-shop solution to all leadership-related scenarios but because I understood that I wasn’t alone with my challenges with leadership. I’ve learnt to lean in and put my hand up, but also to reach out and ask for help. I understand my power and influence, not that of my position but through my personal and professional networks. The experience took away that debilitating fear of “I’m in this on my own” and empowered me to believe in my own value, which I’m sure people will offer to help me develop! 

Following the programme

Since the programme, I’ve had the opportunity to apply my learning in numerous situations, many outside my comfort zone. Perhaps most importantly, I’ve been able to ask for advice and support from my colleagues at work and also from contacts who were on the programme with me. 

I think the most practical and helpful piece of advice I got from the programme was about person specifications in recruitment adverts. Women don’t tend to apply unless we meet 100% of the criteria, while men do. You see a similar lack of aspiration among people from minority groups. So my main advice to anyone reading this, would be to put oneself forward for an opportunity even if you can’t meet 100% of the person specification. This will bring a new perspective to the organisation and give you room to grow within your role.  

Some of the key skills I learnt from the Aurora programme were networking, motivating teams and managing expectations. However, the biggest skill I took away was the ability to negotiate and have challenging conversations, especially with people very different from me. 

What next?

Since Aurora, I have taken the initiative to be reappointed onto the OfS National Student Advisory Panel and continue to shape the panel’s and OfS’ priorities to support the experience of students from minority groups into and within higher education. 

Shraddha Chaudhary is a Communications and Engagement Officer at the University of Exeter and a current OfS Student Panel Member. She supports projects and events within Equality, Diversity and Inclusivity and has strong experience within representation, student engagement and HE policy. Find out more about the Aurora programme.

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