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Athena Swan FAQs: Covid-19

The answers to some frequently asked questions about Covid-19 to the Athena Swan charter.


Do we need to address Covid-19 in our submission? 

There is no requirement to address Covid-19 in your submission. However, Athena Swan is a framework to help you consider gender equality in your institution, department or research institute. We recommend your self-assessment team consider whether the Covid-19 outbreak is affecting gender equality in your context. For example, if your consultation and data suggest that Covid-19 is impacting gender equality in your department or institution or if you identify that your staff or students are likely to be impacted by Covid-19 in the future, then you should consider how to respond within your action plan and ongoing gender equality work.

The gendered impacts of Covid-19 are still emerging; however, early commentary and research has indicated several issues. These include equity of access to teaching/research equipment or attainment gaps that arise from using new forms of assessment; expectations of staff work patterns and variability in research outputs. How an institution, research institute or department approaches challenges like these in their Athena Swan application will depend on their own specific context (size, subject, staff profile etc.) and at what stage of the application process you are. For example, if a November 2020 applicant completed their consultation work prior to the outbreak of Covid-19, there won't be an expectation that data reported addresses gender equality challenges related to Covid-19. However, you may still wish to consider future action to assess the impact of Covid-19 on your institution or department. Equally, if you are still planning your consultation, it may be beneficial to your gender equality work to capture feedback from staff on the impact of Covid-19 through additional survey questions or focus groups, or other forms of consultation.

Is it possible to get extra words to consider the impact of COVID-19?

Yes, we are offering a 500-word extension to the application word limit to consider the impact of COVID-19. These words can be used to discuss practical impacts on the self-assessment process (e.g. format and timing of SAT meetings and/or membership; consultation methodologies; resourcing changes), on action plan implementation, or to address gender equality impacts of Covid-19 more broadly (e.g. publication outputs).

Applicants can use the additional words throughout the application form or in a single section.

The additional words are available to both existing award-holders and to those who currently do not hold an award.  In the case of existing award-holders, the word count extension applies to the first application after March 2020. In the case of applicants who do not currently hold an award, the word count extension applies up to (and including) the July 2026 submission round. This extension is all-inclusive meaning there is no need to apply for permission to use the additional words. Applicants are also not obliged to use the additional words if the self-assessment team determine that the application has not been impacted by COVID-19 or the words are not needed. 


Covid-19 has impacted our self-assessment (e.g. staff consultation), what can we do? 

Advance HE recognises that self-assessment teams may experience practical challenges as a result of Covid-19; for example, delayed work plans or SAT meetings, or uncertain or altered budgets that effect action planning or resourcing changes. Aspects of the self-assessment process may also be impacted, such as the inability to run focus groups as planned, or a poorer staff survey response rate than expected. Some of these challenges may be overcome as your institution/department adjusts to working within the parameters of the Covid-19 restrictions. SAT meetings could be moved online and, depending on the topic and cohort of participants, focus groups and town hall meetings could also convene via online platforms. It may, however, be necessary for SATs to reconsider consultation methods; for example, selecting pulse surveys instead of longer surveys or focus groups. Where survey response rates have been poorer than expected, it may be necessary to leave the survey open for a longer period of time. You could also consider supplementing your survey results with one-to-one online interviews or pulse surveys or online polls. 

SATs may also have questions about how to develop effective actions in light of the evolving public health situation. We encourage applicants to plan actions based on the information currently available (e.g. recent consultation data; current projections of resources available to the department/institution). The action plan can then be adjusted accordingly as new information comes to light.

When it comes to preparing to renew or upgrade your award, you should feel assured that, in normal circumstances, it is necessary for many applicants to adjust and revise actions to ensure achievability and relevance.  If this is necessary, your narrative should provide rationale for your decision and provide an assessment of your progress.

The outbreak of Covid-19 has impacted our ability to make progress on our action plan or priorities, what can we do?  

The Athena Swan process understands action plans to be ‘live organic documents, constantly reviewed and updated’ (AS handbook, p.59). This is because, even in normal circumstances, it is necessary for applicants to adjust and revise actions to ensure achievability and relevance. SATs are encouraged to evaluate action implementation as part of regular meetings and to revise action plans accordingly. For example, it may be necessary to make adjustments to timeframes and milestones or to revise an action to reflect online teaching and learning. Where new gender equality challenges and opportunities have been identified, actions can be included in the action plan. As is typical in Bronze renewals and in applications for Silver and Gold, applicants are expected to reflect honestly on the progress and impact of their actions during the award period. Where progress has faltered, you should acknowledge this in the application narrative and set out a clear plan to address this.