Few would argue that Athena SWAN has not been a hugely positive agent for change. The Athena SWAN Charter is used around the world to support and transform gender equality in higher education and research. Indeed, there are now over 160 Athena SWAN or partner award members worldwide, holding over 800 awards between them. A recent report by Ortus Economic Research and Loughborough University, funded by the Wellcome Trust, the Royal Society and the Department of Health and Social Care, found that 93% of ‘champions’ believe that the Charter has had a positive impact on gender issues in their university, department or research institute.
A characteristic of the Athena SWAN Charter has been its continuous development, notably when it was widened beyond STEMM subjects to include arts, humanities, social sciences, business and law (AHSSBL). In the context of development, and in response to feedback from users ‘in the field’, one of the first actions Advance HE took shortly after its formation in 2018 was to commission an independent review of the Charter. Our motivation in establishing the independent review was for the great strides that have been made in gender equality to be accelerated through an even more effective, engaging and pragmatic Charter.
We specifically choose to appoint an independent review in order to bring fresh perspectives and objective challenge to the Athena SWAN Charter and its supporting processes. I am delighted to say that the Independent Review Steering Group, led with great commitment, insight and energy by Professor Julia Buckingham CBE, Vice-Chancellor and President of Brunel University London, has not disappointed us. Advance HE’s Board and Executive team are extremely grateful to her and the entire Steering Group for their work to capture evidence and form insights for change, renewal and fresh impetus. This is just what we were looking for, and, frankly, what the sector has been calling for.
Advance HE’s Board, in particular our EDI Committee and Peer Review Quality Committee, has explored the Independent Review Steering Group’s report and recommendations in great detail. I am delighted to confirm that the Steering Group’s work will form the basis of Advance HE’s transformation plan, co-created with members, to ensure a smooth and successful transition from current systems and practice to ‘Athena SWAN 4.0’. We anticipate there being a number of focused areas in which we need to undertake some technical consultation and we will work with members to ensure their efforts to advance gender equality are not negatively affected by this process.
Recognising that Athena SWAN has been adopted in many parts of the world, this is a review of the United Kingdom iteration of Athena SWAN with absolutely no compulsion for change elsewhere. We will work with our international partners to ensure our implementation of changes to Athena SWAN in the UK are not disruptive to its operation elsewhere. That said, the review in the UK does open the opportunity for discussions for how we could bring greater value for our global members through this refreshed Charter and provides insight that could support enhancements in other contexts.
How Advance HE will respond to each of the recommendations made by the Steering Group in the UK is outlined in the table that follows and we look forward to continuing to engage with the sector as we build and deliver the Athena SWAN transformation plan.
Finally, I would like to pay tribute all those people who have engaged in the Charter in whatever capacity. The challenges in the advancement of gender equality remain – in access, representation, progression and success. I believe that a refreshed Athena SWAN Charter is just the stimulus we need to accelerate and sustain change.
CEO, Advance HE
Advance HE’s full response to the recommendations can be downloaded below.
Extension of UK Athena SWAN award validity to five years
The Independent Steering Group recommended that the duration of Athena SWAN awards be extended to five years. As part of Advance HE’s transformation plan, we recognise that this is a recommendation that can be enacted in the short-term. We have developed a light-touch process to enable this, whilst ensuring that award holders remain committed to progressing gender equality.