With cash on the line, Athena SWANs take wing

April 25, 2013

Applications for the Athena SWAN Charter for Women in Science gender equality award have soared since it was linked to research funding by the Department of Health.

Sixty-eight higher education institutions, medical schools and science, engineering and technology departments were successful in the latest round of awards, announced on 25 April.

Applications were more than treble those in the previous year, with almost a quarter coming from medical and dental schools and departments.

This followed the DoH’s decision in 2011 that academic partners in the £800 million Biomedical Research Units and Centres scheme must achieve at least a silver award to be eligible for the next round of funding in 2015.

Speculation that other funders might follow suit drove a rise in applications across the board, said Sarah Dickinson, who manages the Athena SWAN Charter at the Equality Challenge Unit. “It really did start this snowball effect,” she said.

The School of Biological Sciences at Queen’s University Belfast - where since 2006-07 the proportion of female lecturers has risen from 22 per cent to almost 40 per cent - became only the third department to receive a gold award, which goes to “beacons” for gender equality.

Christine Maggs, head of the school, said that efforts to advance women’s careers had included ensuring that working practices did not disadvantage part-time staff, introducing mentoring schemes and encouraging gender balance on committees.

Bronze awards went to 34 departments, meaning they had identified good and bad practice and how to improve, while 13 received silver awards, for which they had to demonstrate measurable progress. Another 18 institutions received bronze awards, and Imperial College London and the University of Nottingham were given institution-wide silver status, joining Queen’s in the honour.

Jonathan Sterne, head of the School of Social and Community Medicine at the University of Bristol, acknowledged that the DoH’s decision was behind its successful silver award application.

Despite the considerable administrative burden that an application entailed, the exercise was “one of a whole bunch of things that contribute to making an academic department run well” and would also help to attract the best people, he said.


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