College of Life Sciences

Why a Mirror College Leadership Team?

The benefits of diverse leadership in both education and business include innovation, creativity and the promotion of a sense of inclusion and community. A ‘Mirror College Leadership Team' (M-CLT) increases diversity of thought, offers fresh perspectives and new ideas for the culture of our College. It offers challenge and support – often in areas that those from a more diverse range of backgrounds will understand better than senior leadership teams.

How the project started

The Mirror CLT project began in 2019 as part of our work to progress gender equality via Athena Swan Charter activity, and equity, diversity and inclusion more broadly. We reviewed our College culture and found that while we live in one of the most diverse cities in the UK, our student population is very diverse, and our staff population varied; our senior leadership team did not reflect this. For example our staff consisted of 56% who identified as female and 20% of people from a minority ethnic background. However, our College Leadership Team (CLT) was only 35% female and 10% minority ethnic. We were aware that the thoughts and feelings of those 'on the ground' may not be heard and reflected in executive decisions as well as they could be. 

We began to research innovative solutions to this issue and came across the idea of 'Shadow Executive Boards' in industry. For example in 2015, Gucci created a shadow board of millennials and changed its fortunes around. We discussed the idea of a shadow board but found that we didn't like the hierarchical nature the name suggested. Instead we considered the concept of a Mirror Leadership Team as we wanted the group to help CLT to reflect on their practice. 

From our research we found three key principles we wanted to include in our project: 

  1. Open application process – we didn’t want the executives to nominate or to choose from high achieving individuals. It was important that we didn't only hear from those already known  and that we had a representative cross section of staff on the team. This would enable us to develop previously unseen talent and gain fresh perspectives. 
  2. Sponsorship and involvement of the College Leadership Team - In order for the project to have maximum impact it was key that senior leaders provide support.  The CLT needed to commit to hearing regularly from the M-CLT and to give them projects which had a high chance of being implemented. Senior leaders were needed to drive forward any suggestions made. 
  3. A continual process of evaluating and adapting - The original M-CLT were recruited for a year but we learnt that being able to extend it to a 2 year term and a rolling programme of recruitment was best to ensure effectiveness and succession. We did not want stagnation and the M-CLT needed to create their own procedures and terms for the group. 

Business Case

We presented a business case to the College in 2021 which listed the advantages for the College, CLT members and M-CLT members. 

Benefits for the College

  • Improved communication between CLT and staff members
  • Greater pool of experience from which to draw future leaders
  • Greater understanding at ground level of the decisions made at CLT
  • Increased transparency and engagement of junior staff
  • Diversity of thought that offers fresh perspectives and harnesses the knowledge and experience of college staff
  • Promotes an inclusive environment where staff feel valued and able to contribute
  • Improved recruitment and retention

Benefits for CLT

  • Improved agile working
  • Mirror members are able to support CLT members
  • Provides opportunities for reverse mentoring to CLT by staff from diverse backgrounds
  • Provides a wider perspective on leadership challenges and connects CLT more effectively with all staff groups
  • Aids succession planning and talent management
  • Expanded thinking and alternative strategic perspectives
  • Enables a wider range of strategic projects to be progressed

Benefits for M-CLT

  • Experience of understanding changes and communicating these to staff
  • Increased understanding of what happens in CLT and why changes are implemented
  • Practical skills based career and leadership development
  • Networking opportunities

The Application Process

We created a robust open application process and our first call had 40 applications. Feedback from M-CLT members has stated that the application process was straightforward, that equality, diversity and inclusion principles were clear and that the process resulted in a diverse mix of people. If you would like more information on our application process or induction then please email

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