The Athena SWAN Charter recognises and celebrates good employment practice for women working in science, technology, engineering, maths and medicine (STEMM) in higher education and research. It evolved from work between the Athena Project and the Scientific Women’s Academic Network (SWAN) to advance the representation of women in science, engineering and technology.
Institutions pay an annual subscription to be a member of the Charter, and as members they can apply for recognition with Bronze, Silver or Gold Awards at either institutional or departmental level. The three levels of awards recognise plans, and progress against plans, to address gender inequalities, to change culture and attitude, and to tackle structural barriers to women making career transitions into senior academic posts.
Tips for a successful application
The following is compiled from individuals leading successful applications and from panellists. It was shared at workshops run by the Equality Challenge Unit and the Dental Schools Council and Medical Schools Council. Note that these are views of individuals and not the views of any organisations involved.
- Coordinating the submission is time-intensive and requires adequate administrative resource. Having a dedicated member of staff with the job profile of project manager is useful in maintaining momentum when compiling a submission.
- Promote the Athena SWAN action plan, have a web presence (ideally intranet and external website) and make it a standing item on management agendas. One school found that ‘Athena SWAN’ or even ‘gender’ topics as a standing agenda item attracted little attention – but incorporating the issues into a broader ‘equality and diversity’ item made it something everyone could identify with.
- Have an action plan with measurable actions. These can be categorised and ‘owned’ by a member of the Athena SWAN team. It may be useful to consider having a mix of senior and junior staff members assigned to actions. Hold regular meetings with everyone working on the application – it keeps momentum up.
- It is really important to have senior management buy-in. Change needs to happen at all levels, but having the Dean on board will really give your action plan importance.
- Highlight the business perspective, hearts and minds are won over more quickly by financial impact! Remind those holding the budget of the link to NIHR funding and advocate the goals of Athena SWAN.
- Buddy up with another medical school, ideally one which is a step ahead of you, to share good practice.
- The covering letter sets the tone of the submission, and whether the application is ‘just words’ or there is a true commitment to the goals of Athena SWAN.
- Link the text to the action plan (refer to numbered points) and keep it simple.
- Where appropriate, the impact of an action on both males and females could be given, for example on numbers participating in outreach activities.
- Detail what has been done, learned, achieved, and what is anticipated will contribute to culture shift over time.
- When percentages are used, these should also be complemented with real figures to provide context. Don’t make the panellists look for the information.
- Think about your narrative tell your ‘story’ and make it relevant to your unit. Who are you, what are the issues, challenges, who are your students/PGs, etc. It may be obvious to you, but not necessarily to a panellist.
- Ask someone who has not been involved at all to review your application. Do the charts support the story? Are the aims and objectives substantiated?
- Panel members will have spent considerable time before the assessment panel reading your application. On the day, they spend around 45 minutes to one hour per submission. Make it easy for the panel to navigate the document, include page numbers and cross reference between the text and the figures/charts.
- Think about how the document will look printed in black and white (although you can supply printed copies in colour). Don’t refer to colours on a chart unless you are going to print it in colour.
- Text should be in an easily legible font size such as 12 point.
- Submissions should be clear and concise and avoid overly complex data analysis that does not contribute to the narrative. Similarly, use graphs and tables to contribute to the narrative. Think about the story you are trying to tell.
- Detail those whom you are focusing on: staff employed by the university, not undergraduates.
- The panels like to see staff opinion Surveys or focus groups are a useful way of directly gauging staff opinion on the culture, promotion, etc. This may require funding to be carried out effectively with regards to AS group time.
- Applying first for a bronze award can provide a benchmark to measure progress towards a silver award; applying straight for silver is not impossible, but you will need to demonstrate progress against your own data.
- Help panellists interpret the data. For example, the definitions of academic grades are not the same everywhere, so explain this.