First gender equality awards for Australian universities

Fifteen institutions secure bronze accreditation as Athena SWAN heads south

December 5, 2018

Three-quarters of Australian institutions that applied have secured Athena SWAN accreditation, in the flagship gender equity programme’s first showing down under.

Fifteen universities and research institutes were awarded Athena SWAN bronze awards from Science in Australia Gender Equity, or Sage, at a ceremony in Canberra on 5 December.

They were among an initial cohort of 20 institutions to apply for the awards, which recognise commitment to advancing the careers of women, trans people and gender-diverse people.

A further 25 institutions are scheduled to lodge applications next year, extending participation in the programme to about half the higher education and research sector.

Sage, a partnership between the Australian Academy of Science and the Australian Academy of Technology and Engineering, was established to pilot the UK-developed Athena SWAN Charter and accreditation framework in Australia.

It said that evidence of positive impact from the pilot is already emerging. Female science, technology, engineering, maths and medicine professionals are increasingly satisfied, visible and prominent in STEMM departments and faculties, according to the partnership.

Sage executive director Wafa El-Adhami said that these insights came from an independent evaluation conducted by the Australian Council for Educational Research.

“Institutions in the first group have started to look at their data, identify issues and put actions in place,” she said. “The conversation is now front and centre. We are seeing tangible actions on the ground.

“They’re making car parking available for carers who work in the university system, investing in childcare, changing policies for flexibility – this is where we see evidence of the early impact of Athena SWAN implementation here in Australia.”

Five institutions failed to win certification, including the universities of Canberra, Melbourne and Western Australia, and Southern Cross University in northern New South Wales. Dr El-Adhami said that while they had provided evidence of progress against the Athena SWAN criteria, it was “not sufficient yet to get the award”.

The five will be able to reapply next year, she said, while the bronze award recipients will be able to move towards silver and gold accreditation in coming years. The aim is to “mirror” progress in the UK.

“We believe we can make change over about 10 years and see institutions really moving progressively through that process,” Dr El-Adhami said. “You can’t fast-track genuine change. We want to see genuine cultural change.”

UK academics have complained of an excessive workload from Athena SWAN. Dr El-Adhami acknowledged similar concerns in Australia.

“There is some burden in terms of data collection, in terms of analysis, in terms of resources that go into coordinating this. We’re working with our colleagues in Advance HE to look at lessons learnt – how we can continue to hold the standard and rigour of the Athena SWAN, but reduce the burden in terms of application.

“The sector is really committed. They see value. But if we can reduce the administrative burden that comes with it, we are heading in the right direction.”

The bronze award recipients are:

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