Although I only undertook the Aurora Women’s Leadership Development Programme in 2019, I had it on my mind since it was first introduced 2013. I was based at the University of Reading then, and was coming out of a full-time contract into a visitor role. Despite being the founder of the Women in Academia network since 2010 – which later became the Women Staff Network – I was told that I was not eligible anymore to undertake any sort of external training under the university. It is perhaps also my fault, that I set up and maintained the network voluntarily for years, without asking for any renumeration, money which would have definitely helped a lot since I was still a full-time international PhD student when I started the network.
In 2019, then posted at a different institution, when I read about the open application process within the institution, I did not look right or left and started my application straight away. I was a little bit disappointed that my mentor could not review it, since particularly I was rather new to that institution. But since I had already done quite a lot of work towards gender equity and was one of the most suitable professional staff, my application was very strong. I was obviously excited to hear back positively.
I actually had started off my Aurora journey well before other candidates in my institution were scheduled for their first session. Despite being based in the West Midlands, I was registered to join the London Cohort2. That I must say, was a very relieving and helpful experience.
It was really reassuring that there was no one from my institution in that cohort, even in the first session, where we randomly sat at a table, and subsequent sessions where we were allocated into a specific team – I felt safe and brave to speak.
This should perhaps be an improvement from HEA’s, encouraging institutions to send their female staff to other locations. Money should not be a hindrance to women’s intellectual bravery and equity.
During the second session, it took a bit of time to warm up to members in my Action Learning Sets, they are all lovely people, but when you just met someone and you are expected to talk discuss deep topics, it can be overwhelming. Nonetheless, my group of Aurora team has been a cornerstone in my professional development, particularly my interest in HR processes and equity. I still recall during our first learning set, in a corridor heading for lunch, one of them just picked up a UCU flyer and handed it to me, and literally saying “you should join this”. I did not argue and I am a member of UCU till date.
Fast forward, as I am writing this in Dec 2021, I could not have been more grateful for this bunch of women. We are still very much in touch, and still, have our Action Learning Set ongoing. Yes! We still take at least half a day of our time to empower each other, and it matters a lot to all of us.