Our Athena Swan Silver journey so far: collaboration, aspirations and next steps

Posted in: University Athena SWAN

It has been a year of worthwhile progress for USAT and we asked Dr Marion Harney, who is the Chair of USAT and the University Athena Swan Leader, to discuss key highlights from the last 12 months, themes that USAT unpicked in self assessment stage, and next steps.

Tell us about your role and what it entails

Marion: I have an overall responsibility for strategically leading and preparing the Athena SWAN Institutional Silver application and Action Plan for submission in April 2021. Working with colleagues that are truly representative of our workforce drawn from all areas and at every level of our community we have developed a submission that promotes gender equality and a culture that values all staff and students.

A long-standing member of the University Self -Assessment Team (USAT) I succeeded David Galbreath, Dean of the Faculty of Science as Chair in 2020 and I want to pay tribute to David who did a great job kick-starting the process. Our USAT meetings focus on key concerns at University level, issues emerging from the Athena Swan Network, DSAT Chairs, HoDs and Deans. USAT is responsible for overseeing and preparing the Institutional Athena SWAN application and designing, delivering and monitoring the action plan. In the longer term we act as the operational arm for the plan, with continuous opportunities to review and suggest process improvements. We also support Departments with tailored advice, comprehensive annual data packs, targeted AS Network activities, coaching and upskilling DSAT Chairs through webinars on how to move from Silver to Gold and from Bronze to Silver. Going forward we are committed to ensuring that USAT collaborates and actively contributes to the University Race Equality Taskforce Lead's Rajani Naidoo work on the Race Equality Charter.

What was the focus of USAT over the last 12 months?

Marion: The last 12 months have been very intense as we embarked on our Athena SWAN Silver journey. We began by determining what expertise we required to prepare the submission which led to the team expanding from 16 members in 2017 to 30 members in 2020, all of whom are actively involved in planning, preparation and the submission writing stages.

I have worked closely with the brilliant Aiste Senulyte to allocate sections of the submission to members of the team for critical analysis against HESA benchmarking data collated by Aiste so that we could review our performance against other institutions. The whole team have worked together, analysing and commenting on data and other quantitative and qualitative information in order to identify key findings, gaps and areas for action planning and further research. We also reviewed our policies, procedures and practices to identify barriers to gender equality and put together a set of actions to address them.

What are the next steps for USAT and University when it comes to our Athena Swan journey?

Marion: We have made excellent progress to date, meeting our deadlines, and adhering to the timeline we set ourselves. UEB have approved our draft submission and 5-year action plan and we anticipate sign off from the VC, ED&IC and UEB for the final submission in April. Throughout March we will engage with critical friends, including an external consultant, an Advance HE remote reviewer and an ED&I Lead from another University.

Going forward, our Future Plans are to achieve:

  • Award of our first Departmental Gold by 2024
  • Over 75% of Departments hold Silver by 2024, encouraging all Bronze award holders to apply for Silver at their next assessment rounds. The Departments of Economics, Psychology, and the School of Management all have evidence of impact.
  • Actively engage with beacon activities, and participate in AS activities nationally and internationally

Most of our proposed actions that feature the draft institutional Athena Swan Silver submission we're currently finalizing fall into the category of Supporting and advancing careers, focusing on specific areas for improvement. Infographic below gives a flavour of our targeted actions arising from our data analysis.


What do Athena Swan awards mean for Departments and University?

Marion: The Charter awards demonstrates commitment to gender equality, good management practice and development of initiatives to bring about longer-term cultural change which will benefit ALL staff.

The effectiveness of implementing a collegiate and coordinated AS strategy is that across the University we have made significant progress from holding NO departmental awards in 2013 to the current position of all 12 of our STEM departments holding awards (6 silver and 6 bronze) and 3 out of 5 AHBSSL departments also hold bronze awards (1 is awaiting an outcome and 1 submission was delayed because of COVID).

This is a fantastic achievement and demonstrates the commitment of the University and departments to engage in achieving cultural change by identifying barriers and enablers for achieving gender equality and an inclusive culture for all our communities.

What are you most proud of when it comes to our Athena Swan journey so far?

Marion: Having the privilege of leading a fantastic team who are truly committed to raising the profile and benefits of Gender Equality and ED&I initiatives for everyone at the university – and hopefully all their hard work and dedication will be recognised in achieving a Silver AS Award!

Achieving the unconditional support of UEB for our ambitious and aspirational Action Plan to advance and embed real cultural change across the Institution.

Thank you Marion.

Posted in: University Athena SWAN


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