Working to increase the number of women in leadership in Higher Education

Dr Vicky Mason joins Aurora initiative to mark International Women’s Day.

Last week, on International Women’s Day, Dr Vicky Mason attended an Aurora event in London about Women in leadership. In our latest blog post, she tells us about the experience and changing the shape of leadership in HEI’s.

On International Women’s Day 2018 there seems no better place to be than the first of 5 sessions for Aurora, a women only leadership development programme. The partnership initiative brings together leadership experts and higher education institutions (HEI’s) to take positive action to address the under-representation of women in leadership positions in the sector.

But is there really a problem? At Kent we have a female current (and previous) Vice Chancellor. However, we are in the minority and wider statistics tell a different story. Highlighting the problem across the UK and Europe a recent publication stated that “the proportion of female students (55%) and graduates (59%) in the EU exceeds that of male students, but women represent only 18% of grade A (professorial) academic staff.”[1]

So on this very important day for women across the world I walked into a room of hundreds of women from HEI’s all across the UK, from professional services and different academic fields, to focus on our Identity, Impact and Voice.

By far the most interesting part of the day for me was the discussion around inspiring female role models. Around my table and around the room, there were a vast number of very different women discussed. They ranged from Steph McGovern – a BBC Breakfast business presenter who recently spoke out about the class divide at the BBC – to Dolly Parton, American country singer who launched Dolly Parton’s Imagination Library in the UK in 2007, a free book gifting organisation devoted to inspiring a love of reading in children everywhere.

My own role models were Kent’s Deputy Vice-Chancellor for Education Professor April McMahon and Director of the Institute for Research in Schools Professor Becky Parker MBE. It was fascinating that the qualities that were recurring for all our inspirational role models were things such as courage, honesty, humour, warmth and authenticity – none of which you would necessarily list in the top 5 characteristics of a leader. This allowed the room to reflect on the type of leader we want to be, and the characteristics we might need to work on to get there.

I am very much looking forward to the next session in April which will focus on Power and Politics, and to keeping in touch with the amazing women I met on International Women’s day 2018.

I thank the University of Kent for supporting me in this process and I encourage all female staff to consider Aurora in the future.


Dr. Vicky Mason