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Athena Swan FAQs: General Guidance

The answers to some frequently asked questions about general guidance for the Athena Swan charter.

How are AHSSBL and STEMM defined?

For arts, humanities, social sciences, business and law (AHSSBL) subject areas, the HESA JACS Subject Codes L-X are all recognised as AHSSBL for the purposes of Athena Swan. For science, technology, engineering, maths and medicine (STEMM) Athena Swan uses the BIS definition of STEMM as set out in their Science, Engineering and Technology Skills in the UK report (2nd Report of Session 2012–13). For a more detailed breakdown of STEMM subjects the HESA JACS Subject Codes A-K are all recognised as STEMM for the purposes of Athena Swan.

Should we apply for a Bronze or Silver department award?

This depends entirely on the department and how established they are in their self-assessment and progressing of gender equality, and whether they are able to meet the criteria for each award level. There is no prerequisite to hold a Bronze award before applying for a Silver award, but departments may find it challenging to demonstrate evidence of impact without having undertaken the work required for a Bronze level award. The self-assessment team should come to a decision considering how the department meets the awards criteria based on the results of their self-assessment, how much activity has been undertaken and what progress can be seen as a result. If a department is able to demonstrate evidence of impact against previously identified challenges from actions implemented, they may wish to apply for a Silver award. Without clear evidence of such impact, however, departments should apply for a Bronze award. Further guidance can be found in the awards documentation provided in our Athena Swan resources information pack.  

How do we decide whether to submit as a department, school or faculty?

There are many different structures in institutions, faculties and schools and it is down to the individual institution to decide the composition of units that put forward award applications. We use the term department to apply to a range of units that sit below institution-level awards. There are precedents for a wide range of successful submissions from very small departments to large faculties. Advance HE’s Equality Charters team is happy to advise on which organisational unit should be put forward for an award, but ultimately this is a decision that must be taken within the institution. This should be done as early as possible in the application process to assist you to prepare your application, and must be decided by the two-months’ notice of your intention to submit.

There are a number of considerations to be taken into account when considering your application.

  • Is your unit a sufficient size to pursue the self-assessment process?
  • Does your unit have autonomy and control over relevant policies (e.g. recruitment, induction, promotion, core hours, flexible working)?
  • Does your unit have the ability to provide data for their students and staff disaggregated from the rest of the faculty?
  • Does your unit have a distinct structure and culture?

Further information can be found in the Athena Swan handbook, which can be downloaded as part of our application packs.

What happens if two departments merge?

For any institutions, departments or faculties undergoing a significant merger or restructure, we ask that they contact the team at to discuss their specific circumstances and award validity. If two schools merge that both hold an award, the individual schools will still hold their award for the duration of the award validity. When the first award is due for renewal the new merged department will have to apply for a new award. If the new school is successful any previous awards held will no longer be valid. We also have an interim awards process that covers multiple merging departments that have varying award levels (more information on this process can be found via our interim award guidance document). However, some situations may require a new, updated submission. 

How should we include clinical and/or allied health professionals in our staffing data?

Departments with clinical and non-clinical staff should separate these two groups when presenting staff data. The Athena Swan Charter assessment process will look at the staff employed directly within the department. Commonly for departments who carry out clinical work this includes:

  • clinical academics employed directly by your department including those who also carry out programmed activities outside the University in a medical setting
  • academic Clinical Fellows
  • academic Clinical Lecturers
  • allied health professionals employed directly by your department
  • GPs and GDPs employed directly by your department including those who also carry out programmed activities outside the University in a medical setting

You may also wish to refer to any qualitative data you have for clinical or allied health professional staff who are not employed by you but who are contracted to carrying out programme activities/duties for you in substantive roles (e.g. medical education roles). There is no requirement to include these people in your quantitative data.

If we already hold an award, do we need to complete the full application again?

No, Athena Swan award holders are now able to reapply for their award using a process which focuses on progress made against their initial action plans and their future priorities. Renewal application forms and a guide to the process are available in the information packs.

Award holders wishing to upgrade to a higher award level will still need to use the full application forms.