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Aurora FAQs

Frequently asked questions about Aurora in general, the content of Aurora, Aurora Participants, Aurora institutions and Aurora locations.

General information about Aurora

How did Aurora start?
Aurora was created in response to the Leadership Foundation Stimulus Paper ‘Women and Higher Education: Absences and Aspiration’ written by Professor Louise Morley (January 2013), which showed there were fewer women in the most senior positions in higher education than ten years previous. The paper identified features that could be addressed to change this. Many influential stakeholders at the time including vice-chancellors, Hefce (now The Office for Students) and the Equality Challenge Unit (now Advance HE) agreed the situation called for action and the feedback from the sector told us they would like to encourage more women to plan for leadership roles at an earlier point in their careers.

How does Aurora complement the Athena SWAN Charter?
Athena SWAN is Advance HE’s gender equality Charter, underpinned by a set of ten principles aiming to improve equal representation, progression, and culture within higher education institutions and research institutes. The Charter principles highlight several key gender equality issues in HE, including the loss of women across the career pipeline and the absence of women from senior academic, professional and support roles, meaning Aurora’s encouragement of women’s career progression can be a useful initiative to support the aims of Athena SWAN.  However participation in Aurora is not a pre-requite in achieving an Athena SWAN award.

I'm a man and committed to supporting the career progression of women; how can I get involved?
There are three opportunities for men to be involved in Aurora:
•    Institutions have been asked to nominate a champion (male or female) who will be the face of Aurora in their institution and the main liaison with Advance HE. They will identify participants and mentors for each participant, along with encouraging people to enlist as role models.
•    Aurora mentors may be male or female. The mentor should be more senior than the mentee and have an understanding of internal politics and organisational culture. They need to get on well with the mentee, have sufficient time available to work with the mentee, have strong listening skills and be able to ask good, open questions to help the participants develop their problem solving skills and develop further.
•    Join in the online discussions by using the hashtag #iamaurora .


What is a role model on Aurora?
Role models are women who have forged a successful career for themselves within higher education. On the day of an Aurora event, they will host a table of up to seven delegates and will assist to facilitate the group exercises on the table - all the while sharing anecdotes and experience of wisdom developed through their careers.

More information on what a role model is and how to apply.

Why is it called Aurora?
When Aurora was launched providing the first development activity specifically for women only, we wanted to distinguish it from our other leadership development, not least because the nature of Aurora is completely different from our usual programmes in that it blends education, self-directed study, mentoring, role-models and takes a partnership approach with institutions. Aurora is the name of the Roman goddess of the dawn who in myth reinvents herself each morning. The concept of the dawn or fresh start combined with the symbolism of a woman who is flexible and responsive to change seemed an appropriate metaphor for what we are trying to achieve with this programme.

Why women-only when most higher education working environments are 50:50 male and female?
Women and men are fairly evenly represented in higher education until one looks at senior positions where the proportion of women is significantly smaller. Aurora has been designed to help halt this ‘leaky pipeline’ by encouraging women to think about leadership as a route to career progression much earlier in their careers. The research suggests that most women prefer to discuss challenges and barriers that they face in a women only environment rather than a mixed group.

Aurora content

Can Aurora be delivered in-house?
No. The Aurora numbers are too large with each cohort between 150-250 women at a time. An important part of its value is the opportunity to network outside of one’s own institution. Institutions are partners in the Aurora process however and we anticipate that they will want to set up their own Aurora networks and action learning sets as well as provide mentors and role models. As the critical mass of Aurora participants grows within an institution we expect that Aurora alumni will mentor and support other women undertaking Aurora. 

How much time will the self-directed learning take up?
This really depends on the interest and the time available to the participants. We hope that all Aurora participants will undertake some self-directed learning by following the strand they are most interested in, but we expect some will do a lot more. The self-directed learning will include articles and links to websites, activities and challenges. Some of the learning may be undertaken at work, and other elements undertaken in the home.

What form will the self-directed learning take?
Self-directed learning materials takes account of a range of learning styles and provide background reading and theoretical models, practical exercises and challenges to  undertake in-house activities and projects. These in-house activities may be projects identified or organised by the mentor or Aurora champion. Such projects will not be tightly defined as it will depend on institutional needs and available opportunities combined with the individual skills and interests of the participants. However, the aim is for institutions to recognise that the participants have been part of a major programme, have acquired new skills and confidence and to provide them with an opportunity to develop further. One example might be to establish and run a network for women at their own institution (if such a network does not yet exist).

Why is self-directed study planned as part of Aurora when it isn't usually an element of your programme?
There are two main reasons, first we wanted to ensure the programme is as accessible as possible for women who might have caring responsibilities and secondly, we wanted to offer the participants an opportunity to focus on the things they were most interested in, so allowing a personal tailoring that just isn’t possible when all the learning is ‘classroom’ based.

How will the action learning set days be managed?
Guidance will be provided both online about what a good Action Learning Set (ALS) process looks like. We expect them to be self-facilitating in keeping with our policy on our other leadership development programmes. However, if an institution has women who are interested and prepared to facilitate (role models, Aurora champion, HR/SD people) then the group can take advantage of the offer if it wishes (with no obligation to do so).

What if I can't attend my action learning set date?
A key part of Aurora is the action learning set. This is an opportunity for you to practice skills and build a strong peer network to discuss challenges that both you, and your set, currently face. The day will be run by one of the delegates in your group that you are assigned to on your second development day, Power and Politics. If for whatever reason you cannot attend, we encourage you to communicate with your group to negotiate if a new date can be secured that all delegates can attend. It is the responsibility of delegates to make arrangements to attend their action learning set.
We are unable to transfer delegate’s action learning set days between cohorts.

What is the role of the mentor?
The mentor is the in-house support for the Aurora participants outside of the development days and the person who will help her make sense of her own institution’s culture and internal politics and power structures. The attendance days will involve large numbers and provide an opportunity to network extensively, meet role models, participate in activities and build a relationship with the members of the participants action learning set. The mentor should be a more senior person who remembers the challenges of career progression, has excellent listening skills and can ask good, open questions to help the individual develop their own problem solving skills. Mentors could be male or female - but the mentor and the participant must get on well and the mentor should be able to make time available to work with their mentee.

What's the overall timeline for Aurora?
Aurora will run at multiple locations across the UK for 2021/22. This year the first cohort will begin in October and the final day of the last cohort will take place in July. 

Aurora Participant

How do we select participants for Aurora?
HEIs may use any process they favour to attract participants for Aurora. We would recommend an open and transparent process which will invite and encourage women from across the organisation to put themselves forward as applicants. The Aurora Champion will select participants from this pool who meet the criteria for attendance and for whom they can match a mentor. We would like to see diverse cohorts of women in Aurora, and ask institutions to consider the diversity of age, disability, gender reassignment, race, religion or belief and sexual orientation and when selecting participants. The programme is intended to develop women with the potential for leadership, not just those who have already shown a talent for it, so we hope that the opportunity to attend is offered widely across the institution and not just to those women who are already visibly in the running for promoted posts. More information on the criteria for participants can be found in the Guidance for Institutions .

Is Aurora for academic staff only?
No. Aurora is for both academic and professional service staff. The lack of women at senior positions is an issue across both academic and professional services areas. Up to senior lecturer (and its professional service equivalent) men and women have about 50:50 representation, it is beyond this level that the disparity in the gender balance makes itself felt. In actuality we are looking for women who have yet to take on substantive leadership or management roles, who may be disinclined to take on visible influential tasks (such as project management or committee representation), or they may have had little interest in management and leadership development or they may have attended some without it seemingly impacting on their choices. Because of the personal ‘tailoring’ of the programme a wide ranging cohort will provide a real richness of experience for participants.

Is Aurora only for women already in leadership roles?
No, in fact it is specifically designed to help early career women think about their future careers and to consider leadership and management as routes to progression. We won’t automatically rule out any woman who is currently in a leadership role, but those that are, might find one of our other programmes (such as Leadership Matters, Diversifying Leadership, Research Team Leadership, Introduction to Heads of Department, Leading Departments, Preparing for Senior Strategic Leadership, or the Top Management Programme ) more suitable than Aurora. We are looking for women who have yet to take on substantive leadership or management roles or those who may be disinclined to take on visible influential tasks (such as project management or committee representation). We are also interested in attracting women who may have had little interest in management and leadership development or who have attended some leadership development without it having an impact on their career choices. Because of the personal tailoring of the programme a wide ranging cohort will provide a real richness of experience for participants. If unsure if Aurora is the best choice of leadership development activity for the applicant please contact one of the Aurora team for advice.

Who can apply?
Aurora is for all individuals that identify as a woman up to senior lecturer level or professional services equivalent in a university or higher education college, ambitious for a career in the sector and interested in exploring leadership and management as one option for progression. Applicants will be enthusiastic about their own development, able to attend all parts of the programme, willing to engage in some self-directed learning and with a strong desire to engage productively with their mentor. We are also interested in attracting women who may have had little interest in management and leadership development. 

Aurora institutions

If our institution has not yet participated in Aurora, can we join in a later year?
Yes. However all the participants will benefit from the diversity of cohort so the more institutions that are involved the greater the opportunities for networking, sharing good practice, problem solving, identifying and overcoming barriers and for making real change happen across the sector. We consider each institution to be a partner in the Aurora process and as such will help shape the programme as it develops. 

My institution hasn't committed to taking part, but I have funds, can I send a participant?
Yes. Many institutions have both central and devolved staff development budgets and where the central budget is committed for this year institutions are leaving the decision to participate in Aurora to the devolved budget holders. If you wish to support women from departmental or faculty budgets and can provide appropriate mentors then you may send in the applications. Where a number of independent applications are received from the same institution from different budget holders, we may suggest the applicant sponsors liaise to identify an Aurora champion from within their number.

What institutional sign-off is needed in order to take part?
Each institution which has committed to Aurora will nominate an ‘Aurora Champion’ who will manage all participants’ bookings. It is recognised that some institutions may wish to spread this role over two people – one as the key figurehead for Aurora and one as the liaison point for the administrative details; this is perfectly acceptable. Any individuals who contact Advance HE independently from these institutions will be referred to the ‘Aurora Champion’ for their institution to seek agreement to attend. Applicants from institutions which have chosen not to make an institutional commitment will still be considered if the applicant is able to get senior management or HR/OD/LD sign off, can identify an appropriate mentor from within their own institution, and can fund the fee from department or faculty funds.

What is the closing deadline for applications?
We recommend submitting bookings no later than 6 weeks before the cohort begins to secure the places. Places are booked on a first come first served basis. 

What is the maximum number of participants we can send in one year?
Aurora will have 7 cohorts across the UK and Ireland for 2019/20 providing many opportunities to attend. Most institutions will want to send their participants to the nearest regional location but this is not compulsory. We can accept up to 35 participants per institution. However, we are able to accommodate any number of participants if they are split across multiple cohorts.

Who can I talk to about the specific needs of my institution?
If you are thinking about sending participants on Aurora would like any advice please contact the Aurora team

Aurora locations

Are participants limited to attending in their own region only?
No. Aurora has been designed to be as flexible as possible. So participants can choose whatever cohort work best for them and can transfer one of the facilitated days if required. The only exception is that the day on Power and Politics and the Action Learning Set have to be undertaken in the same cohort for logistical purposes.

Do participants have to attend all the days in the same location?
No. Aurora consists of six interlinked days - four development days and two action learning set days. Each participant attending Aurora is required to book to attend one of each of the four development days - Identity, Impact and Voice; Power and Politics; Core Leadership Skills; and Adaptive Leadership Skills – in the same location that best suits them. Participants can transfer to an alternative region for one of their booked dates free of charge. The ‘Action Learning Day’ must be in the same location as the ‘Power and Politics’ day. 

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FAQs for Aurora champions