The study of more than 40 departments found that the initiative, which promotes good employment practices for women in science, had a positive impact on changing the culture and attitudes in those that took part compared with those that did not.
Findings of the research, by a team at Loughborough University, suggest that the gains of membership for staff stretch beyond helping women.
Men also benefit from flexible working time while administrative and technical staff in departments with silver Athena SWAN awards said they had more support for career development and progression.
The report says that there is “considerable evidence” that career satisfaction, opportunities for training and development, knowledge of promotion processes and fairness in the allocation of workload was considered better in departments with Athena SWAN awards.
But these advances had yet to filter down to undergraduate students and had a “limited” effect on postgraduates.
A “persistent issue” for the Equality Challenge Unit – which runs the scheme - is departments with a small number of staff and those in subject areas that struggle to attract women, according to the report.
One recommendations is that the ECU considers introducing a “pre-bronze” or “small department award” to engage these groups.
David Ruebain, chief executive of ECU, said: “At a time when universities and departments have to target resources where they will make the biggest difference, I hope it will be reassuring to know there is independent evidence of the sustainable impact working towards an Athena SWAN award can have.”
He added that the ECU would continue to build on the success. “We welcome the recommendations for further development and improvement of the process that will ensure the charter remains effective and fit for purpose,” he said.