Action Learning supporting women in HE #NWCIAL2020

On the 23rd January, a mild, sunny day in Liverpool, myself and two founder members of the North West Cross Institutional AL Scheme; welcomed the 5th cohort of AL participants.

Our regional action learning scheme provides a unique CPD opportunity for women working in a wide range of academic and professional services roles associated with STEM, Aurora and Athena Swan. The scheme offers a safe space for women to help each other to solve issues and overcome work and career related challenges.

A maximum of 40 places are available. Participants are asked to register only if they can commit to attend all 4 set meetings. On the day, 35 women from LJMU, Chester University and the University of Liverpool attended. We received apologies stating the same reason ‘workload pressure’. It’s a pity we weren’t notified sooner as we could have allocated 5 places to others on the waiting list. ‘Workload pressure’ is a common challenge and had these women attended and presented, peers could’ve supported them to take action to address their issue.

To date 150 women have participated since we launched the initiative in 2015. To make the scheme sustainable past participants are invited to become set facilitators and engage in a half day of training. A new facilitator was a little anxious about the role and her responsibilities. Another facilitator offered to shadow her, the reassuring presence of the experienced facilitator enabled the newbie to be feel confident facilitating her first AL set.

A participant said the best element of the Aurora Programme she completed 2 years ago was the action learning; ‘working through issues, sharing the learning experience with a diverse group of women, supporting each other through our actions and outcomes. It’s empowering to be a member of a new set, taking ownership for developing ourselves and our potential’.

There was a real buzz at the end of the welcome event, and not because of the Starbucks coffee that arrived very late! Participants were energised by getting to know their set members, hearing highlights of our NWCIAL journey, learning new techniques, using the post-it method and exploring potentially sensitive issues with fully engaged set members. The different perspectives brought by others not closely-related to the work contexts described, stimulated broader thinking about the issues presented and helped generate action and understanding. Those who presented challenges felt they had been heard and supported by their peer group and were committed to ‘take action’, back in their workplace!

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