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Athena SWAN Charter

Athena Swan logo

What is it?

  • Launched in 2005, the Athena SWAN Charter evolved from work that was being done by the Athena Project and the Scientific Women's Academic Network (SWAN), to advance women's careers in science, technology, engineering, medicine and mathematics (STEMM).
  • The Athena SWAN Charter is now a kite-mark, rigorously validated at three levels – bronze, silver and gold.
  • The Charter is managed by the Equality Challenge Unit (ECU) and UK Resource Centre and funded by the Royal Society, Biomedical Society and the Department of Health.
  • The University joined the Charter in June 2013 to become the 94th institution member.
  • The University has submitted an application for an institutional bronze award; upon achieving the bronze level, individual Schools/Departments can go for their own awards.

Why do it?

  • By committing to this Charter the University is demonstrating that it believes in equality for women.
  • The University will gain benefits from the Charter, such as attracting a wider talent pool, developing and retaining talent.
  • In 2011, the Chief Medical Officer, Dame Sally Davis, announced that the National Institute for Health Research would only expect to shortlist medical schools for biomedical research centre and unit funding if the school holds a Silver Athena SWAN award.
  • In January 2013, the Research Council UK launched its ‘Statement of Expectations for Equality and Diversity’, which states that it expects those in receipt of Research Council funding to “provide evidence of ways in which equality and diversity issues are managed at both institutional and department level”.

Athena SWAN – Progress Update

  • The application for the Bronze accreditation was submitted on 30th April 2015 and included a self-assessment report against the Athena SWAN criteria and a three year action plan.
  • The University will be notified in September 2015 on whether the submission has been successful.
  • The Athena SWAN self-assessment team were involved in overseeing the submission process and will continue to meet every six weeks to monitor the action plan.
  • The University has developed a comprehensive action plan, with actions falling under the headings of:

- Governance
- Data monitoring/management
- Recruitment and selection
- Career development
- Profile raising
- Work-life balance.

New Changes to the Charter Mark

 In May 2015 the charter was expanded to recognise work undertaken in arts, humanities, social sciences, business and law (AHSSBL), and in professional and support roles, and for trans staff and students. The charter now recognises work undertaken to address gender equality more broadly, and not just barriers to progression that affect women.

It has 10 principles that the institution needs to commit to:

  1. We acknowledge that academia cannot reach its full potential unless it can benefit from the talents of all.
  2. We commit to advancing gender equality in academia, in particular, addressing the loss of women across the career pipeline and the absence of women from senior academic, professional and support roles.
  3. We commit to addressing unequal gender representation across academic disciplines and professional and support functions. In this we recognise disciplinary differences including: the relative underrepresentation of women in senior roles in arts, humanities, social sciences, business and law (AHSSBL).  And, the particularly high loss rate of women in science, technology, engineering, mathematics and medicine (STEMM)
  4. We commit to tackling the gender pay gap.
  5. We commit to removing the obstacles faced by women, in particular, at major points of career development and progression including the transition from PhD into a sustainable academic career.
  6. We commit to addressing the negative consequences of using short-term contracts for the retention and progression of staff in academia, particularly women.
  7. We commit to tackling the discriminatory treatment often experienced by trans people.
  8. We acknowledge that advancing gender equality demands commitment and action from all levels of the organisation and in particular active leadership from those in senior roles.
  9. We commit to making and mainstreaming sustainable structural and cultural changes to advance gender equality, recognising that initiatives and actions that support individuals alone will not sufficiently advance equality.
  10. All individuals have identities shaped by several different factors. We commit to considering the intersection of gender and other factors wherever possible.

Key changes

• Inclusion of professional and support staff;
• Inclusion of trans staff;
• Consideration of intersectionality;
• Questions rationalised and new questions added;
• Four year award (currently Athena is 3 years);
• Aggregated and extended word count;
• Combined forms: bronze/silver institution, bronze and silver department.

Professional staff

Baseline data required (a picture of the institution and department) and looking specifically at flexible working, managing career breaks and organisational culture.

Trans staff

There are new questions for institutional submissions only (not departmental) focusing on inclusivity of policy and practice.


We will consider the intersection of gender with other protected characteristics such as gender and race, gender and disability learn more about the specific barriers faced by people with one or more protected characteristics.

New questions

There are also new questions about the inclusion of Research Excellence Framework; support for grant applications; contract functions/types (zero hours, fixed term etc); return after breaks; HR Policies (bullying and harassment); staff surveying and Shared Parental leave.

There will improvements to the process

• Applicants have the right to appeal decisions.
• Applicants may object to a specific panellist.
• Chair training will be provided.
• More complete guidance in a comprehensive handbook.