Revisiting our Inspirational Female Line Managers - Introductions and Inspirations

Astrea recently caught up with three of our Inspirational Female Line Managers, Weronika Benning, Hannah Biggs, and Rhiannon Williams.

Weronika Benning, Hannah Biggs, and Rhiannon Williams

Last year, Astrea launched a campaign inviting members of the network to send us their stories celebrating truly supportive line managers. We wanted to hear inspirational stories about managers who have supported, championed and advocated for their female staff, who have gone over and above to provide opportunities for their career development and who have taken steps to mitigate the gendered impact of the pandemic. We received nominations from women across the whole institution and put together an online gallery with excerpts from the nominations of those happy to be featured. If you missed it, you can still check out the recording of the round-table discussion following the nominations.

Astrea recently caught up with three of our Inspirational Female Line Managers (IFLMs) over the summer – Hannah Biggs (Senior Sustainability Manager, Sustainable UCL), Rhiannon Williams (Senior Campaign Relations Manager (Internal Engagement), UCL Advancement), and Weronika Benning (Business Development Manager, UCL Careers). We asked them to each reflect on their nominations, share their personal experiences of leadership and their own inspirational female line managers, as well as diving into how they cope with managing change and supporting staff career development. We received such a wealth of insight and such generous offerings of experience, that we’ve decided to share our conversations over the next three newsletters with you, as well as providing some handy reminders of the policy, support and opportunities available to everyone at UCL.

Find out more about the Astrea Celebrates Inspirational Female Line Managers campaign.

(Astrea) How did you feel when you received your Astrea Inspirational Female Line Manager nomination?

(WB) It was a lovely surprise, very out of the blue, so lovely for someone to take the time out of their day to sit and reflect and write a nomination on paper.

(HB) I wasn’t expecting it at all. It gave me a lasting ‘good’ feeling.

(RW) I was so grateful to receive the nomination…and felt a real sense of validation that I was actually alright at managing people!

(Astrea) What do you believe makes an ‘inspirational’ female line manager? And what doesn’t?

(RW) The phrase that comes to mind is ‘empowering.’ I want to feel empowered by my line manager and to be an empowering manager. Giving someone the space to make their own decisions, but also to make mistakes and learn from them.

(WB) Someone who allows you to have autonomy in your role, who both encourages and enables, and who demonstrates the nurturing side of line management. A manager who sees that someone has grown in their career, supporting their ambitions and interests and actively encouraging next steps. Other key qualities are role-modelling good practice, championing your team, being visible, and advocating for them.

(HB) I believe we should be caring deeply for everyone that we manage, noticing how they are feeling, and what their drivers, aims and ambitions are. Also providing flexibility regarding both physical and mental health and providing support and space for open dialogue on all issues. Active listening and recognition of work well done is key, whilst providing positive momentum and support in times of change, rather than emulating the stress.

We also asked our IFLMs if they could share some personal experiences with their own inspirational female line managers, and it was great to see a consensus around positive experiences with both male and female line managers. Highlights included managers that encouraged open and honest dialogue, the sharing of development opportunities, and being pushed to apply for regrades and career progression, without having to ask for them.

Rhiannon Williams’ nominee commented that she was always looking for opportunities to help them grow, both professionally and personally, so we asked Rhiannon how she engaged with institutional citizenship, and how important opportunities for growth have been in her personal journey at UCL.

(RW) It’s crucially important to have more regular career-based conversations that sit outside of your regular 1-1s, as they tend to get bogged down with work obviously. Also having recognition of your personal and professional development within your current role, to contribute to both your department and UCL, not just with a focus on the next career move, because that isn’t always wanted by your staff. Interestingly, institutional citizenship is not a well-known term for everyone across UCL, perhaps something only becoming more well-known recently. I supported this by being a champion for my team internally, helping with applications for wider UCL leadership programmes and involvement in pushing for representation for team members on a cross-college working group.

(WB) Institutional Citizenship is a term that is used on appraisal forms, but we need to encourage and look for opportunities for institutional citizenship constantly with our team members, not just once a year.

More information on Institutional Citizenship and appraisal conversations can be found via the UCL Ways of Working, a behavioural framework that supports colleagues to be successful and happy at UCL through sharing expectations around how we work. The framework enables individuals, teams and leaders to set clear expectations, support development, have quality conversations and be their best in the workplace.

Hannah Biggs’ nominee commented that she created an environment in which they felt empowered to ask for a regrade and that they were supported continuously throughout this process. We therefore asked Hannah what empowerment meant to her personally, and how she creates a work environment conducive to staff development and empowerment.

(HB) I very openly talked about how we need to become leaders as women from day one. I put in career meetings with all my direct reports every 6 weeks, just creating that specific space to think about it. I also support lots of meetings in the new hybrid working environment to build closeness and a safe space to talk about things. I have experienced a re-grade, so have first-hand experience to recommend it – we need to be vocal to push and ask for these things.

UCL has developed a Reward Toolkit which outlines all the options for Recognition and Reward for Professional Services Staff, including promotion and re-grading procedures and information for Accelerated Incremental Progression.

For more information about the topics covered in this article, please do speak to your own line manager in the first instance and check out the links featured in this article. And if a colleague has shared this article with you, please do become a member of the Astrea network. It's free to join Astrea – there are no membership fees. Our aim is to unite women from different roles, different grades, different departments and faculties and with different backgrounds and experiences to one central UCL network. We are open to all self-identifying women and non-binary staff members. 

In the next articles, we’ll have an even deeper dive into policy around reasonable adjustments, Equality, Diversity & Inclusion, and work/life balance and the support available, but for now, we’d love to share with you some recommended reading and resources from ourselves and our Inspirational Female Line Managers to dip into over the festive break: