Gender equality: next steps for the University

Posted in: University Athena SWAN

We are looking to the future in our final anniversary story, the concluding part of a series reflecting on 10 years of Athena SWAN at the University of Bath. The Athena SWAN Charter recognizes advancement of gender equality. The Charter is based on ten key principles, the first of these being ‘We acknowledge that academia cannot reach its full potential unless it can benefit from the talents of all’. By being part of Athena SWAN, institutions are committed to a progressive charter; adopting these principles within their policies, practices, action plans and culture.

The  University’s Athena SWAN Self Assesment Team (USAT) consists of a wide range of academic, teaching, research, professional services, technical staff and student representatives to ensure a representation of multiple voices and experiences. USAT aims to actively promote gender equality across the institution, implementing and evaluating the current Athena SWAN action plan. In 2020, the team will lead the preparation of an institution application for an  Athena SWAN Silver Award. Here we talk to the Chair of USAT, Prof David Galbreath (Dean of Humanities and Social Sciences), and to the University Athena SWAN Lead, Dr Marion Harney (Senior Lecturer, Department of Architecture and Civil Engineering), both pictured below, on the challenges ahead for USAT and the University.

What encouraged you to join USAT and lead on Athena SWAN activities at University level?

David: I have always felt that Universities are strengthened through equality, diversity and inclusion. Much of my work in the 2000s found evidence for how building trust and confidence in diverse groups led to more sustainable and progressive societies. Athena Swan is one way we seek to ensure that our University can promote equality, diversity and inclusion across the institution.

Marion: I first became involved in Equality, Diversity and Inclusivity issues in 2008 when the University launched an initiative to appoint an Equality Co-ordinator to be the focus within departments for equality issues and I was appointed to this role in Architecture & Civil Engineering. I became ACE DSAT Chair on its inception in 2011, joined USAT in 2011, was appointed to Faculty’s Athena SWAN Champion role in 2015 and successfully led, authored and coordinated two Departmental Athena SWAN submissions and action plans – Bronze in 2015 and Silver in 2019.

When the role of University Athena SWAN Leader came up I felt that my experience has provided me with a deep understanding and appreciation of the University’s ED&I strategies, and the ability to identify key areas for action and improvement. My ambition is to contribute effectively to the on-going formation and development of the university’s strategies and plans for equality, diversity and inclusion for all protected characteristics in a reflective, respectful and sensitive manner.

Marion, you have been a member of USAT since 2011. What has happened since then, any lessons learnt? What was most difficult or challenging?

Marion: In 2011 there were few resources or support available for writing AS submissions. Data collection was one of the biggest challenges we faced as there were no processes or mechanisms in place to provide or analyse the information we required to author successful applications. In departments you had to make your own analyses, draw your own graphs, tables, bar charts etc. which resulted in (at least in my case, as a Humanities graduate) some interesting results!

The importance of having accurate data cannot be understated and thankfully the situation has improved and we now have excellent support from Aiste Senulyte, Equality, Diversity and Inclusion Officer and Georgina Brown, Head of Equality, Diversity and Inclusion, although we still need more if we are to sustain our level of success in achieving AS awards thus far.

Institutional Silver application requires Universities to demonstrate the impact of the Bronze application. What are the areas/stories/changes that stood out for you the most, personally?

Marion: I think one of our main successes, and an area where we have made a significant impact as a result of fully engaging with the Athena SWAN aims of systematic cultural change, is in the continuing increase in the number of female professors and women in STEM Departments.

For example, through developing and embedding the cultural changes necessary to achieve Athena SWAN Awards for all 4 departments in the Faculty of Engineering & Design (2 Silver and 2 Bronze) has been impactful in changing the culture in the departments, although there is still much more to do.

For a period of time, I was the sole female academic in ACE and it is now 27% female and the cultural change we have brought about has positively benefitted everyone in the department. However, we are yet to appoint our first female professor but hopefully this might change now that the criteria for promotion have been revised.

David: For me, it would also be the growing numbers of female professors and senior roles held by women. I believe these are two of the best stories and tell us a lot about where the University is going.

What are the key areas of focus for USAT going forward?

David: We have a lot of work to do in preparing the submission, from consultation, analysis and onto writing. We have a great resource in the ED&I office, namely Aiste Senulyte, who makes all of this possible. Through working with both Aiste and Marion, we have a lot of work ahead of us but are sure to present the progress the University has made since the last Bronze award.

Marion: A critical part of the process going forward will be building on our existing success of achieving 9 Bronze and 5 Silver departmental AS Awards through developing clear and detailed strategies for achieving equality, diversity, inclusion and further embedding culture change across the university. We have expanded USAT and intend to have regular meetings with the AS Network, which hosts all 17 Departmental Athena SWAN Leads/Chairs across the UniversityTaking into account the diverse range of views from our community, will help us to devise innovative and efficient ways to disseminate best practice within and without the university.

As part of our self-assessment process we will be consulting with all staff using culture surveys and focus groups, analysing qualitative and quantitative data effectively to make evidence-based decisions and implement an impactful Action Plan to address any issues/concerns.

What do you think are the benefits of Charters such as Athena SWAN? What are the challenges?

Marion: The benefits of Athena SWAN have been demonstrated through the terrific initiatives of staff and students across the university leading fantastic creative and interesting events that have significantly raised the profile and positive aspects of engaging with Athena SWAN principles.

These and other such initiatives are hugely impactful on gender equality and give impetus for changing the culture of our organisation to the benefit of all staff and students.

I believe the Athena SWAN Charter is most effective when it is implemented as a tool to ensure that practices and policies present no disadvantage to any member of staff or student.  This approach is most beneficial when it brings about transformational cultural and behavioural change and attitudes of everyone involved if it is to have a positive impact on gender issues, equality and diversity issues, and the career progression of underrepresented groups.

David: The benefits of Athena SWAN are key to getting Universities to take some of the core challenges to equality, diversity and inclusion seriously. It would be too easy for Universities to put everything down to productivity and student choice without thinking about the gendered, hetero-normative and most often academic ways in which society has an impact on how we treat and work with others.

Marion, as the University Athena SWAN Lead, what will you aim to lead on in the next 18 months prior to submission deadline?

Marion: Our Athena SWAN awards demonstrate an ongoing commitment to the advancement of gender equality, representation, progression and success for all. However, there remain some considerable challenges if we are to achieve an Institutional Athena SWAN Silver award, implement the Action Plan, increase and maintain the level of departmental awards and continue to promote and support our gender equality work at regional/national levels.

If we are to continue to actively engage with the aims of Athena SWAN we need more leadership and support from senior management, including meeting increasing resource requirements.

To enable us to effectively engage our community in a clear vision to integrate ED&I objectives within the organisation and fully implement and embed our plans for equality, diversity and inclusion, this can only be achieved if we have buy-in at the highest level from senior management teams across the university.

David, as Chair of USAT, how will you measure the success of USAT work? In other words, what does USAT need to achieve over the next 5 years?

David: The success of the AS USAT will be first and foremost the quality of the submission for a silver award. But the progress we will make towards this, from building a community to affecting change in the work place will be the areas that will have the biggest impact.


This is the tenth and final Athena SWAN Anniversary story, a project brought to you by Dr Sarah Bailey, Senior Lecturer in Department of Pharmacy and Pharmacology and Faculty of Science Athena SWAN Champion and Aiste Senulyte, ED&I Officer at the University. You can read our previous stories here. We would also appreciate your feedback, so if you have any comments please feel free to send us an email - we would love to hear from you.

Posted in: University Athena SWAN


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