Archives for posts with tag: leadership

This is a guest post from Charlotte Turnbull, Coaching & Mentoring Consultant

mortar board image.pngThe 14th November 2016 was a great day. I graduated from my MSc in Coaching & Mentoring from Sheffield Hallam University. Having worked in the HE sector for almost 25 years in HR and development roles across both universities in Sheffield, it was great to be in the audience this time rather than the platform party. But another change had also occurred. My dissertation research into the role of mentoring within a women’s leadership development scheme had led me to a series of powerful realisations around the role of mentoring and mentors within the development of leaders.

Using mentoring to address issues of under-representation of groups within leadership is a popular approach. My research focused on exploring this from a mentors’ perspective and was a small study of 6 mentors (50% of the mentors participating in the programme in the two years reviewed) within one university as part of a national programme.

To set the context for the role of this mentoring, I explored the literature around women in leadership, which revealed insights new to me beyond the standard ‘glass ceiling’ approach. Eagly & Karau’s (2002) ‘Role Congruity Theory of Prejudice Towards Female Leaders proposes that women are judged harshly for (a) being in a leadership role in the first place, as this was not congruent with society’s expectations, and (b) once in a leadership position their behaviour was also subject to more criticism than men. If a women leader acted agentic, that was not considered acceptable as this behaviour was aligned with male behaviours, but if they acted communal then that was also criticised as it was not aligned with the accepted stereotype around successful leadership (i.e. males acting in an agentic manner). An interesting ‘double whammy’ which could usefully be explored within the mentoring relationship I thought, but was not being openly discussed by mentors within the programme.

A further standout revelation for me was from Morley’s (2013) stimulus paper for the Leadership Foundation ‘Women and Higher Education: Absences and Aspirations’. Morley outlined a range of limitations put on women in HE leadership which kept them from the top positions. From these, the concept of permitted success for women in supporting areas, but not core organisational business (i.e. academic roles for HE), jumped out at me.

The description of ‘velvet ghettos’ for communication, finance and human resource management roles stopped me in my tracks. That was me! I consider myself to be a pretty independent thinker, comfortable with being agentic and driven in my career as well as being emotionally literate and relationship focussed. But reflecting back on my choices and experiences of how others had responded to me, through the combination of these new perspectives was a real eye opener. If I was unaware how gender stereotyping in leadership had potentially impacted upon my behaviours and decision-making as I built up my career, then how might it have impacted upon my coaching and mentoring practice? And how did it impact upon the women’s mentoring programme that I was reviewing?

By looking afresh at the mentoring programme, I revisited its core aims and compared that with how it operated. The aim was to boost the number of women into leadership, admittedly not necessarily in the same year of operation, but presumably sooner rather than later! This was within the organisational context (which mirrored the national picture) of a male dominated senior leadership team. The mentors taking part in the review period were senior women from both academic and professional services areas. So, we had women mentoring women in isolation from the main, male dominated leadership board. It struck me that this leadership paradigm, and the thinking of the top decision-makers, and holders of resources for the organisation, were not being disrupted in any way. Without any disruption at this organisational (macro) level how could any change occur?

Disruption at the mentoring relationship (micro) level also interested me. Was the mentor’s role one of steward and to help emergent women leaders navigate the system that appeared to currently work against them? Or was it to be a change agent, who considered the mentor role and the mentoring relationships could shake up the status quo? Most mentors in my study considered it to be’ a bit of both’, but further exploration revealed that they focussed on change, or disruption, at the individual level e.g. raised self-awareness of the mentee.

I was surprised that one of the key questions that jumped out at me from my reflections on all this was – is this ethical practice? If we have a recognised national issue around the lack of women in leadership then why are we not (a) including reasons for this as a key feature in the mentoring conversations and (b) why are the people who could influence sustainable change not being required to participate in those conversations as mentors? I appreciate the vulnerabilities of conscripting mentors to participate in any programme, but perhaps it’s a worthwhile step if change is needed?

A further ethical question was the need to support mentors (women and men) in exploring their own prejudices around gender and leadership. I’d consider this a valid step to ensure that destructive messages were not being passed on, either consciously or not. It would also enable the mentors in turn to support mentees to explore their own opinions and bring a transparency and openness to the discussion.

I’m sensitive to being perceived as being critical of the scheme I observed. I’d emphasise that it was due to the high calibre of the mentors and the evident quality of the mentoring across the programme that I was able to explore it on a higher level principles basis. I’m also pleased to say that observations arising from my dissertation have also been fed in to help enhance the scheme further.

Change takes time, but we can all consider how our mentoring can disrupt the status quo, even from our ghettos, however comfortable they may be!


I teach professional practices in coaching and mentoring* in an education context and have developed some short workshops for academic supervisors and principal investigators that focus on the relational aspects of research leadership and use coaching techniques as the basis for conversations that help people develop their thinking and understanding.

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Leadership is one of those Holy Grail skills that all researchers aspire to develop but often struggle to leadershipdemonstrate and give evidence of leadership experience on job applications or in interviews. There are lots of different ways to lead and just because you line manage someone, doesn’t mean you are acting as a leader. Other forms of leadership include; leading up (i.e. leading your supervisor, which in research is a very regular occurrence as you are the person who knows your research area as well as, if not better than your PI), self-leadership (which is self-explanatory and something researchers do on a daily basis) and lateral leadership which I want to cover below. Read the rest of this entry »

On Thursday 3rd November we successfully ran our first full-day event of workshops specifically designed for postgraduate research students to recognise and refine their knowledge of leadership skills. Under the title “Leadership Development Workshops”, sponsored by Science Think Ahead, PGR students across all faculties attended four sessions from 9:30am – 4pm in the Arts Tower computer room, with speakers from a wide range of disciplines and services within the University.


Some of the resources that each of our attendees received

The first session of the day was given by Phil Wallace from the University’s Leadership Development team.  He discussed with the participants what it means to be a successful leader in today’s world, the role of the leader within the community, and the concept of living leadership. Researchers were also given the chance to reflect on that using their own experiences and achievements. Read the rest of this entry »

I was inspired during a Twitter conversation a couple of weeks ago to consider concepts and perceptions of professionalism. The opinions offered online and the research literature on professionalism, professional trust, and professional development, are vast and sprawling, and each profession has its own definitions and competencies that make up what it means to be professional. You can imagine that professionalism in Paediatric Physiotherapists is defined in a different way to professionalism in Chartered Accountants or professionalism in Theatre Stage Managers. I’ve not done a comparative analysis of all this, because lists of similar and different ‘in theory’ skills and competencies aren’t too useful in shaping how we help others develop professionalism. I’m more interested in examples of how this plays out in practice. Read the rest of this entry »

rmpOur early career Research Staff Mentoring programme has been running for 5 years now. Having trained about 150 academic volunteers in mentoring techniques and ethical practice, and having seen more than 500 pairs come through the scheme, I’ve learned a lot about the power of dialogue in supporting planning for research careers. Taking a research-led approach has helped craft a programme of value to the primary learners, the early career researcher mentees. But there’s wider listening to be done to fully embed a mentoring culture across the university – a successful mentoring programme has to align with existing structures and cultures, not circumnavigate them or try to replace them.

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Are you thinking of applying for a research fellowship award?

I’m currently running a research project called Fellowship Ahoy! that asks researchers who score prestigious research fellowships just how heck they did it. I have been zipping around the country (as you may have seen on the project Twitter account @fellowshipahoy), visiting other universities and collecting the intricate and interesting background stories that lead up to being awarded that rare and elusive fellowship award. I’ve now talked to twenty-five unique and very different fellows and really enjoyed it.


I am doing this project for a couple of reasons:

The first is intellectual curiosity – we just don’t know much about the professional lives, strives, small niggles and big decisions of this group of people, and the LFHE wanted to give me some money to do it.

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Guest post from Caitlin Brumby, a PhD researcher in the Dept. of Molecular Biology and Biotechnology.

I joined Kay’s PhD leadership coaching course more because it sounded interesting rather than anything else. In hindsight, this may be one of the better places to start from, it gave me pause to think about almost everything discussed, and one train of thought has stuck with me more than the others. Something I thought about more and more throughout the sessions was giving real thought to one nagging worry:

Perhaps Im not the right person for academia in the long term, would I eventually fit in amongst these well respected academics? Me? They know everything!

bf663c8f441c4a6ea29345837939a968 I’m one of the masses suffering from the imposter syndrome I suppose, a constant feeling of inadequacy, when actually, looking at the facts and feedback, I’m doing pretty well.

I don’t think I’m the perfect PhD student, in fact, I know I’m not. I get incredibly distracted by the big picture, the elegance of experiments, new techniques on different continents and cool 3D microscopy models. Read the rest of this entry »

signA session of my Leadership Coaching Groups for PhD students is dedicated to getting people together over coffee to facilitate conversations between successful academic staff and current research students who are aspiring future academic leaders. I know what you’re thinking – why would they aspire to that?

Topics of discussion in higher education that are currently flooding blogs, tweets, and editorial are the impacts of stress from research workload management, isolation, employability anxiety or workplace bullying, on mental health in academia. Now, I think these are truly important discussions, and serve to raise awareness of some really difficult issues and generate an evidence base from which to begin to generate support structures, and a culture change.

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