What is Athena-SWAN?

­­­­ Athena SWAN Charter

The Athena SWAN Charter recognises good employment practice and commitment to promoting and advancing women’s careers in higher education (HE) and research in Science, Technology, Engineering, Mathematics and Medicine (STEMM). The STEMM subjects have traditionally been, and in many areas continue to be, a male-dominated area. The Charter, developed from the Athena Project and the Scientific Women’s Academic Network (SWAN), was launched in June 2005 and there are currently 114 Athena SWAN member Universities and Institutions.

The Athena SWAN principles

It is statistically well supported that women are highly under-represented in HE and university research careers in the STEMM sector and this is especially prominent in senior, decision making positions. For women, academic career progression can offer challenges not experienced by males at the same career level. At specific stages of their academic career in HE and science more women than equally qualified men are leaving the STEMM sector rather than progressing further. Under-representation of women in science is costing of lack of diversity at management and policy-making levels and great loss of talent for HE and research in STEMM areas.

Member organisations of the Athena SWAN Charter identify with the following six principals:

  1. Commitment and action from everyone, at all levels of the organisation in order to address gender inequalities
  2. Changing cultures and attitudes across the organisation to challenge the unequal representation of women in science
  3. Examine the implications leading to absence of diversity at management and policy-making levels at the organisation
  4. Address the reasons for the high loss rate of women in science at the organisation
  5. The organisation recognises negative consequences of short-term contracts for the retention and progression of women in science
  6. The organisation actively considering personal and structural obstacles to women making the transition from PhD into a sustainable academic career in science

Universities and individual departments/schools are encouraged to identify specific areas with problems of gender equality and evidence initiatives and practices to address these. Depending on the progress in supporting women’s careers and that equality and diversity issues are understood, visible and prioritised in STEMM in HE and research, institutions can apply for Bronze, Silver or Gold awards.

There are several great benefits for being acknowledged by the Athena SWAN charter. Changes in the organisation’s structure and culture towards supporting better representation of women in different committees, transition from postdoctoral level to early academic career, improving common working practices to promoting further career progression and the number of women in all academic level can have a positive impact for the university as all. It enhances the University’s or the individual Department/School reputation, as a great working environment for both male and female staff. It is also apparent that different UK founding bodies expect evidence in cultural changes in the management of equality and diversity in institutions in order to receive research and higher education funding.

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