Tag Archives: women in IT

The importance of networking for women in IT

Rhiannon Gillespie
Service Desk Advisor
Cardiff University

CISCO Live 2018, Orlando

Preparing for CISCO Live

As a UCISA bursary award winner for 2018, I had the opportunity to visit CISCO Live in Orlando, Florida.  CISCO Live is CISCO’s annual customer and partner conference with sessions, hands-on training and an exhibition. With just three weeks to prepare before setting off, I registered for the conference and got to work choosing which sessions I’d attend. There were hundreds to choose from, so I stuck to one area: the ‘Leadership and Equality’ track. I had to register on the sessions before arriving and some I wanted to attend such as the ‘CISCO Live orientation’ were unfortunately fully booked.
I downloaded the CISCO Live app, which held my schedule, helpful information like meals and shuttle times, and general information about the conference. This was very useful while at the conference to keep on top of where I was supposed to be.
I arrived early to allow myself to acclimatize before the conference started.  The conference was just a shuttle ride away, so on the Saturday before the conference I got the shuttle so I could find where the stop was for when the conference started and went to pick up my badge to beat the Monday morning queues.  On the Monday morning I got to the conference early to take advantage of breakfast. I could tell how big the conference was just by how long it took to walk from the shuttle stop to the dining area!
I attended two or three sessions a day and spent the rest of the time wandering around what CISCO dub the ‘World of Solutions’.  This was an area with various technical labs, ‘DevNet’ developer area and a trade show type floor where CISCO partners conduct talks and demos of their products.

CISCO Empowered Women’s Network

The track of talks I attended used to be a four-hour session called CISCO Empowered Women’s Network or ‘CEWN’ on the Sunday before the main conference. This was the first year they had spread it over multiple sessions over multiple days. A newbie to networks and the only female in the IT Service Desk team, I sometimes lack confidence. There were more technical sessions, which matched all levels of technical ability but owing to my lack of confidence I didn’t attend any of these.  The CEWN sessions, however, really helped with my confidence. They discussed varying diversity issues and how to overcome them, and some sessions were presented by women who work in different areas of CISCO discussing their roles. They also discussed how to create more diverse teams and the benefits this can have, this included a talk from the main person behind ‘CISCO men for inclusion group.
My favourite talk was about ‘Women on the Front line of Disaster Response’ which consisted of three managers from separate teams (one a different company, NetHope) discussing how they approach disaster response and help bring back networks to disaster areas. This included man-made disasters, natural disasters and refugee camps (pictured the CISCO van and inflatable satellite they take to disaster areas).
It was interesting learning how they managed this as well as the results from completing the work.  For example, one of them discussed how when speaking to some refugee children, it transpired that they had learnt how to speak English by watching videos on the Wi-Fi.
If anyone is ever thinking of attending CISCO Live, I highly recommend it. If you are a woman thinking of attending, definitely go for it. Only 8% of attendees this year were women, but this was up from 6% last year – we need to keep pushing that number up! The conference really did help with my confidence and it was just generally really good fun (especially the party they held at Universal Studios!).

 Interested in applying for a UCISA bursary? Then visit UCISA Bursary Scheme.

CIO+1 – celebrating diversity in IT

Anna Mathews
UCISA Head of Policy and Projects

 

 

In April UCISA sponsored a CIO + 1 event, as one of our activities to support diversity in our sector, as outlined in the UCISA 2018-2022 Strategic Plan  CIO +1 is a series of events designed to improve diversity in IT, and expert speakers, technology or subject matter-leaders are  involved at each event.
Established by Claire Priestley, Director of IT at City, University of London, CIO +1 gives underrepresented groups in the sector access to unique networking opportunities.  The CIO +1 audience is therefore CIOs and IT leaders, accompanied by their nominated individuals from HEI and FEIs (as well as local and central government, charity, NHS and the private sector).

As Claire explains, “CIO+1 is an initiative developed to help diversity in IT leadership. CIOs are invited to high calibre, free networking events on the basis that they bring along a talented individual from within their own teams – ideally someone from a typically underrepresented group. The “+1” gets exposure to the same high profile networking, strategic conversations, products and presentations that we – in tech leadership – have the opportunity to experience regularly.”
And what a fun, informative evening it was!  One element that really stood out was the care and attention Claire’s well-briefed colleagues took to host the reception and  ensure that people were brought into conversations if they found themselves on their own; another was Claire’s emphasis on “breaking bread” –  the excellent food, along with the convivial, friendly atmosphere made for a relaxed evening.

 

There were three guest speakers:  Professor Marianne Lewis from the Cass Business School; Sarah Wrench, AI expert from Ernst Young; and Aline Hayes, who is leading the development of big data and AI at Lloyds Banking Group as Head of Systems.
In a funny and engaging hands on presentation Sarah covered all manner of topics:  boxing, the importance of positive and negative data sets in machine learning, and using magic tricks at interview.  Aline, who many of us know from her previous roles in higher education spoke about her role at Lloyds and about employment practices, such as flexible working, to support diversity.
We concluded with a fascinating talk from Marianne who explained polarity mapping in organisations, using  the changing fortunes of Lego as a case study.   In short, in trying to reinvent itself twenty years ago, Lego moved too far away from its core values and central business (creating too many new product lines, not listening to retailers, ignoring the strength of the heritage brand it had built up).   When falling sales led the company re-examine its culture, it realised that it had “over adjusted” (or to put it another way the pendulum had swung too far).  This realisation led to a return to Lego’s core values.  And from that new position of equilibrium the company went on the success it now enjoys by innovating but always paying heed to its history.

You can find out more about the CIO + 1 initiative from Twitter and the CIO + 1 page on LinkedIn.  The next event takes place on Tuesday 31 July and it is being sponsored by the UCISA London Group , which is supported by the London Metropolitan Network. 

ITSM Tools

Sally Bogg, winner of Business Role Model of the Year in the 2018 Women in IT Awards, offers her insights on breaking the cycle of ITSM tool frustration. Head of end-user services at Leeds Beckett University, Sally is Chair of the  UCISA’s Support Services Group and holds the award for Inspirational Leader 2017 from the IT Service & Support Awards.

 

ITSM TOOLS, IT’S NOT ME, IT’S YOU!

It’s not me – it’s you? From conversations with other UCISA members and colleagues across the HE and FE education sectors, there seems to be a great deal of dissatisfaction with our IT Service Management tools.
Is that just because ITSM tools tend to be pricey so our expectations of what they will deliver are sky high? Or is it that we’re simply failing to fully leverage the significant investment we make in them?
My take is that they are often purchased as an unrealistic silver bullet and seen as a catch-all solution for implementing ITIL-related processes and creating a service culture.
The problem as I see it is that a tool is still just a tool. It can’t change embedded behaviours or culture and it can’t fix broken support processes.
And because of that, we often get stuck in a non-productive cycle. We buy a new tool, go through the pain of implementation and then walk away with very little investment in development.
A year or two down the line, we’re frustrated and disappointed that it has failed to meet our needs. What does it seem we typically do? We start thinking about buying a new one.
Some organisations have got dedicated development resource for their ITSM tool. But many don’t. Is it any wonder that they are not meeting our requirements and delivering return on investment?
It seems time for a new approach. Time to get the most from the ITSM products we’re using by working more closely with vendors and suppliers. Most ITSM tools have very similar functionality so my advice is to find a vendor that you want to work with — someone you can build and develop a long-term strategic partnership with.
Start by spending lots of time mapping the processes and understanding where the tool can be best used and, if possible, where activities and tasks can be automated, for example password resets.
I know starting with the processes rather than the product isn’t very IT. But while we may want to get our hands on the system as soon as we can, I think first deciding how, where and why we can maximise its use is a prerequisite for ending the cycle of ITSM fatigue.
For example, trying to retrofit and tack on reporting after implementation can be a costly, time-consuming mistake that may require a complete redesign — easily avoided if you think about what reports you want early on in your process-mapping.
And remember that success usually is about people, not things. Spending time and investing in training will result in the tool being used cohesively and consistently.
Finally, look ahead and keep that forward momentum. Implementing a continual service improvement roadmap for your ITSM tool means development activities can be recorded, developed, prioritised and implemented.

Key take-outs:

  • Develop a strategic relationship with your ITSM tool supplier

  • Start by considering processes, not products

  • Look ahead. Invest time into a continual service improvement roadmap for your ITSM tool

 

UCISA welcomes blog contributions and comment responses to blog posts from all members. If you would like to contribute a new perspective or opinion on a current topic of interest, simply contact UCISA’s marketing manager Manjit Ghattaura via manjit.ghattaura@it.ox.ac.uk

 

The views expressed on UCISA blogs are the authors’ and do not necessarily reflect those of UCISA.

#pressforprogress

Jeni Brown has been IT Training Manager for the London School of Economics and Political Science since 2006 and a member of the Digital Capabilities (formerly User Skills) group, with a couple breaks for maternity leave, since 2008.

 

THE IMPORTANCE OF FEMALE ROLE MODELS IN TECHNOLOGY AND HIGHER EDUCATION

As I write this, it’s International Women’s Day, and I’m reflecting with optimism on the ways that I, my team, my division and institution have made a #pressforprogress in the past 12 months. A month ago, I was honoured to receive the Academic Award for my work in digital capabilities at LSE, and share the stage with some amazing and inspiring women at the FDM Everywoman in Technology awards. The awards recognise the most inspirational women in technology, with the goal of promoting female role models within the STEM industries. It was truly humbling to hear about the amazing achievements of the assembled finalists, often in spite of casual sexism and unconscious bias in their organisations or schools. This year I have also been lucky enough to take part in the Leadership Foundation’s Aurora programme, and meet more incredible women taking on leadership positions within HE and pushing through some of the subtle and not-so-subtle barriers in the way of greater gender equality. Here again, female role models were important, with past participants acting as role models and facilitators for the sessions.
So I’ve been reflecting on the importance of role models. Seeing ourselves represented in our field of expertise and in our institutions is powerful. I felt a surge of hope when LSE hired Dame Minouche Shafik as Director, and discovered a renewed interest in my role when Laura Dawson joined as the new Director of Information Management and Technology. And I want to play my part in inspiring women as well. I’ve signed up for the Modern Muse network and joined the mentoring programme at LSE. I’m thrilled to have the chance to be a role model, as well as benefit from the female role models in my organisation.
But as optimistic as I am, there is a lot more to do, and even ardent feminists like myself will get it wrong sometimes.
My division recently took the decision to name our meeting rooms, in addition to their number designations. I was heartened and excited when the suggestion to celebrate technology pioneers was refined to celebrate female tech pioneers. My division was being so progressive! A female colleague and I quickly set out to create a shortlist for our colleagues to vote on and presented it to our engagement group. And then another colleague pointed out that all our picks were white women. And I was ashamed, but so very grateful, to be called out for our unconscious bias. Because representation isn’t only about gender, or sexuality, or even race – we need to be actively seeking to highlight the range of contributions made by all people and keeping each other honest about the process. It wasn’t hard to find further contributions by a more diverse range of women, but I hadn’t actively thought to do it. We can all do better, be more aware, and work harder to address our unconscious biases. Those of us with the most privilege (and higher education has quite a lot of privilege), need to do the most work.
LSE, like a lot of other HE institutions, is working on this issue. And in the IT Training team, we’re doing what we can to ensure we’re meeting the needs of our students. A couple years ago, we were dismayed at the lack of female candidates for our Student Training Advisor position, so we started examining our processes to see if we could improve representation at the application stage. We reviewed our job description and realised we had a strong focus on technical skills, and not as much focus on the communication and teaching or tutoring skills. But our actual experience with student trainers was that the most technical candidates weren’t necessarily the best. Some of the most amazing student staff came to us with low technical skills but an excellent understanding of how to communicate clearly and structure learning for different skill levels. Evidence shows that not only do women suffer from a confidence gap, especially in tech, but it is easier to teach someone technical skills than to teach a technical person about the industry they are entering. We revised the job description to de-emphasize technical skills (after all, what kind of training department can’t teach their staff the required technical skills?!) and focus on practical experience in communicating complex information. We ran the job description and advert through a gendered language online tool, to ensure we weren’t using masculine-coded language that puts off female candidates.
And it worked – in the next recruitment round, 40% of our applications were from women compared to no female candidates the year before, and we saw some stellar candidates. We got a higher calibre of male talent as well. Our interview processes have always relied heavily of giving students a chance to show us what they can do, with at least half of the time spent on practical tasks or a teaching audition – one of several ways recommended to reduce bias in your interviewing process. We also advertised heavily amongst the current programme participants, where over 60% of participants are female. We still have some way to go, but we’re committed to having more women in the role of technical expert. Even the way we’ve designed our training programme reflects our commitment to a wider range of people successfully leveraging technology. Our focus on digital literacy, self-sufficiency, transferrable knowledge, and confidence in solving technical problems – not just learning a set of specific technical skills – helps everyone engage confidently with technology.
We’d love to talk to you about what we’ve been doing, and hear about what works (and doesn’t) at your institutions. The Digital Capabilities Group is running a webinar about events that recognise women’s achievements in technology on 6 June (see the website nearer the time for details), or you can hear about our engagement with our student trainers at the Change Agent Network conference in Winchester in April. Finally, I’ll be presenting about how our training programme develops digital capabilities and confidence at the Spotlight on Digital Capabilities event in May. You can also get in touch with me at j.l.brown@lse.ac.uk.

 

UCISA Exec member Sally Bogg wins top Business Role Model award

Sally Bogg, Head of End User Services at Leeds Beckett University, Chair of UCISA’s Support Services Group and a member of UCISA’s Executive Committee, has been named Business Role Model of The Year at the 2018 Women in IT Awards.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

“I was proud and humbled to attend the awards but I never expected to win,” said Sally. “It just goes to show the power of education and the transformational impact universities can have.”

“I have been very fortunate over my career to have had so many inspirational role models to look up to and it is nice to be able to give something back.”

She continued: “Women have been responsible for some of the greatest technology inventions and yet there are still not enough women working in tech roles within our sector.  IT has an image problem and much work still needs to be done to demonstrate that this is an attractive and exciting industry to work in. The Women in IT Awards are a great way of helping address this image problem, celebrating our female tech talent and hopefully inspiring others.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Sally Bogg (centre) receives her award from TV presenter and TeenTech CEO,
Maggie Philbin (left) and Monika Fahlbusch, Senior Vice President of category sponsors BMC software. (Image courtesy Women in IT)

 

Sally dropped out of school after becoming pregnant at 17 but later returned to education and graduated from Leeds Beckett in 2006 with a degree in computing. At the time, she was one of only a dozen women among the 200 students on the course. After gaining further experience in the IT sector, Sally returned to the Leeds Beckett University in 2015 as Head of End User Services, Client Services, and is now responsible for the University’s IT Services Desk, Desktop Support and IT training as well as managing 45 staff.

Women in IT Award judges said of Sally: “Her non-traditional career trajectory shows anyone can succeed in IT if they have the passion and drive. Her work in higher education IT is really making a difference.”

Commenting on her success, Sally said that joining UCISA’s Support Services Group had played an essential role in her career progression.

“It has enabled me to grow and strengthen my network, and has given me access to strategic and leadership exchanges outside of my own organisation. I have received so much support from the UCISA community and it has been a source of great inspiration and motivation to me.”

This is the second year running that Sally has been honoured for her approach to her work.

In 2017, she was presented with the Service Desk Institute’s Inspirational Leader of the Year award at the  IT Service and Support Awards in recognition of the positive and sustainable impact she has had on staff across Leeds Beckett University and the wider service desk industry.

The Women in IT Awards, run by business technology magazine Information Age in London and New York, are now in their fourth year and showcase the achievements and innovation of women in technology, identifying new role models and promoting further dialogue around diversity among industry influencers.

Bursary review – Educause

michelle

Michelle Griffiths
ITS Project Manager
IT Services
University of Oxford
Member of UCISA-PCMG

 

 

 

I applied for and was extremely delighted to be awarded a UCISA Bursary to attend the conference of my choice in 2015. I chose to attend Educause 2015 , based on very extremely good feedback from fellow UCISA_PCMG committee members who had attended in previous years.

Educause is a non-profit association whose mission is to advance higher education through the use of Information technology. It is based in North America, but has global reach, with members in Europe, Africa and Australasia. Each year the Educause annual conference is attended by upwards of 7000 higher education professionals. Oxford University has been a member of Educause for a number of years, and has presented at past conferences.

The main areas of interest from the Educause programme based on my current projects were in the areas of identity management, smart cards, and risk management. The organization of the event was extremely good; there was a mobile app that you could download and schedule which presentations you wanted to attend, which then formed your own customized conference schedule. The event was vast: with approximately 7000 attendees, you need to be really well organized. The “First timer pit stop” area was a must on the first day of the event after registration. The “International Welcome lounge” became my home from home after attending the presentations. I used the IT equipment in the International Lounge to type up my blogs, ready to be posted onto the UCISA blog site:

The keynote speakers in particular were really inspiring and engaging. I was particularly moved by the closing keynote speech by Emily Pillotan.

Emily runs a non-profit design company and shared a few of her project stories with the audience. These included a farmers’ market public space, a middle school library, two homes for the homeless, creating a space for young girls, and creating items to be used in a domestic abuse centre. After explaining each scheme, Emily provided quotes from individuals that worked on the project. This was by far the focal point which really underlines why Emily does what she does and the value she helps put back into people’s lives and communities.

The general session was presented by Daniel Pink from MIT, who described motivation from the perspective of science. Daniel said that everyone in the room was an expert in motivation, they just may not realise it yet! He also said that we all have an explicit knowledge of physics without having studied it as a major. Daniel discussed when you should reward good behavior and bad behavior, and whether this changes behavior. I think I will be adding one of his books to my reading list: Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us.

One of the sessions that made me think outside of the box a little when it comes to career aspirations was the panel discussion “From IT Support to CIO: A journey of three women” The career path from support to CIO is not a usual one, in my experience; however, the experiences shared by the panel made it clear that if you are motivated and think big, you can succeed to the highest heights!  Originally, I was not planning to attend this presentation, but whilst looking for another room, I came across this, which seemed more appealing!

Since attending Educause a number of Identity Management suppliers have been in contact with me, which is near perfect timing for the IAM programme. I have passed onto the programme manager in charge of IDM all the contact details I gathered whilst attending Educause, which will be used to help source an IDM solution.

I would like to thank UCISA for giving me the opportunity to attend Educause 2015. It has helped me broaden my networking and knowledge base, learn from my peers, gain a useful insight into how International institutions work, and bring all that I have learnt back to Oxford University and UCISA_PCMG to share with colleagues and peers.

Day Type of Session Presenter(s) Title
1 Session 1 – Opening keynote Daniel Pink (MIT) How small wins can transform your organization (blog post)
1 Session 2 – Presentation Lawrence Bobranski (University of SasKatchewan) A practical approach to risk management that delivers results  (blog post)
1 Session 3 –Poster Myles Darson – JISC National BI Service for UK education
1 Session 4 – Panel Clint Davis, Mike Carlin and Thomas Hoover (UNC and UTC) Transforming IT – a tale of two institutions
2 Session  1- Direct poll Randall Albert (AD, Ringling college of art and design) Project Management (blog post)
2 Session 2 – Keynote speaker Andrew McAfee (MIT) The second machine age: work, progress and prosperity in the time of brilliant technologies 
2 Session 3 – Panel discussion Melody childs, Cathy O’Bryan, Wendy Woodward and Sue B. Workman From IT Support to CIO: A journey of three women  (blog post
2 Session 4 – presentation Emory Craig, Mike Griffith and Maya Georgeiva Wearable tech and augmented vision – Pedagogy in the future
3 Session 1 – presentation Ron Kraemer, Kevin Morooney and Anne West Trust and Identity in education and research identity for everyone  (blog post
3 Session 2- Closing keynote Emily Pillotan If you build it: The power of design to change the world  (blog post)

From IT Support to CIO

michelle

 

Michelle Griffiths
ITS Project Manager
IT Services
University of Oxford
Member of UCISA-PCMG

 

A journey of three women

This session  was a panel discussion session where each of the panel members gave their views to the audience in response to a number of questions. The session started with a poll to establish how many of the audience had career aspirations to become a Chief Information Officer (CIO).

The panel consisted of: Melody Childs (Associate Provost and CIO, University of Alabama in Huntsville), Cathy O’Bryan (Director, Client Support, Indiana University Bloomington), Wendy Woodward (Chief Information Officer, Wheaton College) and Sue B.Workman (Vice President for Information Technology Services, Case Western Reserve University).

Why in the world would anyone hire you as a CIO?

  • Those of you who are in support probably feel undervalued, although you are one of the main communication links that bring the institution closer to the staff, students, parents, etc.
  • You will probably have a holistic view of people’s needs and infrastructure, and where to go for resources.
  • Study the organisational chart so that you know all the sections and departments, and all your staff names.
  • Seize on trends before they actually become trends.
  • Ensure you gather and have to hand the best data and analytics available.
  • You will be seen as the front door to the centre of IT.
  • You will probably be one of the only non-technical staff members in IT.
  • You have to think on your feet during technical meetings; if you don’t know a technical phrase, just Google it.
  • The CIO is often there to bridge the gap between the CIP and the technical staff, although they don’t need to be technical themselves.

What skills have you developed that has helped you bridge that gap (from IT support to CIO)?

  • You really have to know the business of the University to be the CIO.
  • You need to fully understand changes and how to manage them, and how they will impact every part of the business.
  • You need to be able to build strong relationships, which you may need to call on in time.
  • The breadth and depth of knowledge you acquire in support puts you in a good position to become a CIO.
  • Many CIOs don’t have an IT background.
  • The CIO manages all interactions between IT and its internal and external support elements.

What are some examples of major initiatives that you have started as a CIO where you directly leveraged your experience in the support organisation?

  • Change management – you have to have the correct mind set to crack this area of expertise.
  • Understand and support what is being done at a technical level to ensure business continuity.
  • Supports skills between service providers either inside or outside of IT.
  • The building of relationships is difficult and sometimes requires difficult conversations to take place.

Tips on becoming a CIO

  • Undertake a listening tour when you first arrive, so that you can listen to people’s views on problems and improvements. Take time to have a coffee with staff members.
  • It’s very important to keep talking to people, and to take care of the little things.
  • Collaboratively building technology with your people in order to ensure that innovation and creativity are nurtured.
  • Don’t be the first person to talk in a meeting; listen and let other have their say.
  • If you want to become a CIO, employ a mentor and have regular meetings with them to track your progress and to offer support.

The Aurora Programme – a Director’s view

In the second of our posts on the Aurora programme Kathy McCabe, University Librarian and Director of Information Services at the University of Stirling, talks about her involvement in the Programme and the benefits of having your staff participate.

As a member of the founding team back in 2013, I didn’t need much persuasion to get on board with Aurora, the LFHE programme designed to enable a wide range of women in academic and professional roles to think of themselves as future leaders. The evidence was all around – women make up 50% of the workplace; the proportion of female students (55%) and graduates (59%) in the EU exceeds that of male students but only 20% of professors and 14% at head of institution level in the UK in 2010/11 (18% in the EU). The latest figures from the 2015 Women in IT Scorecard research, published last week by BCS, The Chartered Institute for IT and the Tech Partnership, show that just one in ten IT Directors are women. The Scorecard also reveals that only 17% of the 1.18m IT specialists working in the UK in 2014 are women.

There are no specific figures available for IT staff in HE in the UK – but I’d hazard a guess it is even less favourable than the statistics above. As I peruse UCISA’s membership directory, the list is overwhelmingly male at director and deputy level. Are we content with this? Is it sustainable? Where are the role models for our female staff and for our female students – how can they envisage themselves in an IT role if they can’t see a successful future for themselves?

Now, as a director, I have had the opportunity to encourage women in IT at Stirling to participate in Aurora and the benefits are multiple. I see skilled and confident women emerging, stepping up and contributing even more to the organisation, often bringing a fresh approach to problems. I see the results of the mentoring process which provides a platform for the participant to reflect on their style and their progress and often benefits the mentor as much as the mentee by providing a view of the organisation from a fresh perspective. I see positive outcomes from the opportunity to network both within and outside the institution and the raised profile of (and respect for) the IT function as a result of this networking. I see women go on to promoted positions which have eluded them for some time. A past “Auroran” commented recently that “being nominated and supported to attend the Aurora programme made me realise that I am valued and that the University has confidence in me.”

BUT – the number of IT participants in Aurora remains low. This surprises me as the programme represents excellent value for money and is flexible and accessible. It is much more than attendance at a number of delivery days, albeit these days are core to the programme – it is the whole package of learning, skills development, reflection, mentoring, networking, stepping up and, in my experience, the positive outcomes have manifested pretty quickly.

If any IT director would like to know more about this, then please feel free to get in touch.

Kathy McCabe
University Librarian and Director of Information Services
University of Stirling

T: (01786) 467203
E: kathy.mccabe@stir.ac.uk

The Aurora Programme – a participant’s experience

The Aurora programme is a leadership skills development programme run by the Leadership Foundation aimed at women working in higher education. Their aim is to get women thinking about what skills are required to take on leadership roles way before they are in a position to do so and subsequently identify the skills and behaviours they will need in order to progress their careers. However, so far the Programme has had a low participation rate from women working in IT departments. In the first of two posts on the Programme, Eileen MacDonald, Head of Business Systems at the University of Stirling, describes her experience of participating in the Aurora Programme.

This initiative was launched in 2013 and I was very keen to secure a place on it. From 1999 until 2013 I had worked at the University of Stirling as a Programmer/Analyst and then as a Senior Programmer/Support Coordinator. I applied for and was successful in being appointed as Deputy Head of Business Systems in 2013 initially for a 3 month secondment. This coincided with starting on the Aurora programme and although I knew it would be tough scheduling time to devote to a personal development programme I felt it would be worth it.

The Aurora programme asks participants to actively take part in 5 training days which are spaced over one year. There is also an element of self-learning through recommended reading material and video clips. All participants are allocated a mentor as part of the programme and encouraged to meet with them frequently throughout the course. This aspect of Aurora was invaluable. The mentor relationship gave me the opportunity to talk through aspects of my job that I found difficult. It gave me the space to analyse and to talk through strategies that could be used in future situations.

Additionally Aurora has helped me build my confidence and ability to contribute at a higher level, and to deal with staff matters and conflicts. I recognised quite early on that there is not always a right answer or way of doing things – you have to develop and trust your judgement.

When I joined the Aurora programme I was surprised at how few IT professionals were taking part in it. Perhaps it is because IT is a very results driven environment where technical expertise and knowledge is what we are judged on by others as well as by ourselves. However the skills required to move through the levels in an IT business environment are no different from the skills you need in other professional areas. Working in IT you can spend a significant amount of time devising strategies for change whether this is in persuading others to adopt a new technology, use a new system, follow a new procedure etc. – implementing any of these changes requires leadership skills, understanding the organisation you work in, building networks and so on.

This Aurora programme covered many of these areas and participating in it gave me the opportunity to step back and reflect on what my approach, and that of those around me had been up until that point.

An aspect of Aurora that cannot be underestimated is the opportunity to network internally and externally, and the benefits that this brings. This experience opened my eyes to a whole new user base and in gaining a wider understanding of the business that I was part of.

Over the two years I have taken on significantly different roles to the ones I held previously. Aurora has helped me identify the skills I needed to carry out these roles and has helped prepare me to move towards fulfilling my career ambitions. In fact in August 2015 I was appointed as the Head of Business Systems at the University of Stirling.

What I learned and relationships I developed as an Aurora participant continue to contribute to my personal growth and understanding of the HE business and the people who operate within it.

Eileen MacDonald
Head of Business Systems
University of Stirling