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University of Edinburgh - Aurora case study

29 May 2018 | Edinburgh University is committed to ensuring that both men and women are able to fulfil their potential as leaders in research, learning and teaching or management. Although we have a variety of strategies to support both men and women in leadership development, women are still underrepresented in senior roles (as of 2015, 37% of vice-principals and senior management were female, and around 30% of heads of school were female).

Schemes such as Aurora are hugely important in enabling women to explore their leadership aspirations and abilities in a supportive environment, and to develop their leadership potential. Many of our former participants have found the “cohort” nature of the scheme, the shared learning and the mentoring it provides invaluable.

Jane Norman, director of the Edinburgh Tommy’s Centre and vice-principal, people and culture, is the Aurora champion for the University of Edinburgh
Jane is professor of maternal and fetal health at the University of Edinburgh, leading a translational research team at the Tommy’s Centre for Maternal and Fetal Health which aims to improve the health of pregnant women and their babies. Jane has been vice-principal for people and culture since 2015, with responsibility for equality and diversity issues. In this role, she led the university’s successful application for an Athena SWAN Silver award in 2014.

Jane Norman is supported by two Aurora liaisons:

Ruth Miller, learning and development delivery specialist
Ruth joined the University of Edinburgh in 2013; she has over 16 years’ experience working in staff development in the private and higher education sectors across Europe, Australia and Scotland. Ruth delivers and tutors on a number of leadership development programmes across the university.

Frances Grebenc, HR/OD partner (learning and development)
Frances joined the University of Edinburgh in 2007; she has over 15 years’ experience working in staff development in both the private and public sector in Canada and Scotland. She is also responsible for managing Edinburgh’s mentoring connections programme and for project managing different organisational development work.


How do you select your participants? 

We use a competitive recruitment and selection process. We devolve this responsibility to each head of college and head of support group. To provide consistency and structure we have created and shared the University of Edinburgh's selection criteria, a process flow chart, a guidance document and an application form (which is now mandatory); these are all published on our website. Based on previous feedback, we have also changed our selection criteria and limit our participants to those in grades UE07-UE08 or equivalent; which means that the programme is no longer offered to Edinburgh’s senior lecturer level staff.

Once the candidates are nominated, we offer additional development options with the aim of supporting these individuals over the year and beyond. These options are all voluntary. They are:

  • A lunch time briefing/networking session for the new Aurora participants - We invite our Aurora champion Jane Norman, and Aurora programme director Ginnie Willis, as well as an Aurora alumna to speak at the session on their experience of Aurora. The date is normally before the first Scottish session.
  • A half-day mentoring introduction session for participants and new mentors to help them consider their mentoring skills and structure.
  • A networking dinner for new and past Aurora participants and mentors to provide them with the opportunity for ongoing networking and relationship building and to thank current mentors for their time and support of the current participants.
  • A mailing group. We include all past participants details in an Aurora Legacy email group and use this to communicate with the group.
  • Evaluation. In past years we have conducted our Aurora evaluation through a face-to-face session. This year we plan to use a survey to gather feedback.
  • Ongoing development. Previous participants have access to ongoing development support. Last year we started offering a partially facilitated action learning set to Aurora graduates; six women have taken up this option. This will continue again this year. In addition, we are planning a new women-only development day for previous participants of Aurora and women who have attended our internal Ingenious Women programme; with the goal of offering additional development support for these individuals.

Alumnae Network. Our previous Aurora participants have recently established an alumnae network. This is a peer-led network that is managed by the individuals.

How did you match your participants with mentors? 

Nominated participants and interested mentors are asked to complete an online form answering the following questions:

  • Aurora participant only: highlight the areas that you would like to explore with your mentor.
  • Interested mentor only: highlight the topics or work related areas in which you can offer support to a mentee.
  • Give a brief description of your career background.
  • Briefly summarise what you would like to gain from participating in the mentoring as part of the Aurora programme.
  • Partner preferences – gender, location (campus), college/support group, department and school.
  • This information is then used to match participants with an available and appropriate mentor.

In the last year, we have started to look for more male mentors with the aim of increasing male senior staffs understanding of the programme topics and the personal challenges faced by female staff. Our mentors are a mix of interested staff, previous participants of Aurora and targeted individuals. This year we are also asking that our heads of college and support group to identify potential mentors.

What is the impact of Aurora for your institution?

Since Aurora began 54 women from the University of Edinburgh have attended the programme. We don’t track or measure the impact of Aurora on the careers of these participants; instead we focus our effort on offering ongoing support and development to reinforce the learning gained through the programme.

We see Aurora as one of many strands of work that fosters a community of excellent female leaders across the university. Aurora has supported our work to achieve our strategic targets of achieving Athena SWAN Silver and increasing the proportion of female academic staff appointed and promoted to lecturer, senior lecturer, reader, and professor levels. It aligns with our aim of valuing, supporting, developing and utilising the full potential of our staff to make the university a stimulating and successful place to work.

The take away...

To get the full value from the programme participants need to have the time and interest in participating in Aurora. Individuals identified by their line manager; should still have the freedom to consider whether this programme is the best option for them. Building commitment and interest at the start leads to a more positive learning experience.

Want to know more?

Find out more about Aurora here.

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