Broad-based equality

October 24, 2013

We were interested to read “Athena SWAN is poised to achieve liftoff” (News, 10 October) and “Dawning diversification” (Letters, 17 October).

We would like to respond to the incorrect statements made in the articles that Athena SWAN “assumes a lack of institutional sexism within higher education” and “suggests the major barrier for women’s academic careers is childcare”.

It is the broad and thorough nature of Athena SWAN assessment that we believe has led Dame Sally Davies, the UK’s chief medical officer, to tie future National Institute for Health Research funding to Athena SWAN awards. Statements from Research Councils UK and the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills identify the awards as a method for institutions to demonstrate clear and sustainable commitment to gender equality.

The assessment process requires that universities undergo a rigorous self-assessment review. This requires focus on potential bias across key areas such as staff recruitment, turnover, promotion and career development, supported by a detailed data analysis that brings to light any barriers to women’s achievement and progression. It expects this alongside consideration of staff’s work-life balance and the specific needs of those with caring responsibilities, among other areas.

We welcome initiatives that address inequality in higher education, including the Aurora programme to develop female academics’ leadership skills. The Equality Challenge Unit will continue to work with the Leadership Foundation for Higher Education to ensure that Aurora and Athena SWAN complement each other in advancing gender equality across the academy.

David Ruebain
Chief executive
Equality Challenge Unit

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