The Athena Swan Ireland charter framework depends on assuming a collective responsibility for addressing systemic inequalities and embedding inclusive cultures in higher education.
The criteria for all award levels require structures and processes that underpin and recognise gender equality work and, where relevant, wider equality work. As part of this, all applicants undergo a self-assessment, led by a representative team and informed by staff and student communities.
SAT members should develop and have a clear understanding of the charter framework and principles. The SAT is responsible for:
- Collecting and analysing data.
- Consulting with the community.
- Developing and evaluating actions.
- Communicating findings, activity, progress, and impact.
The topic guidance on ‘Forming a Self-Assessment Team’ will provide you will information on the following:
- The structure of the SAT
- SAT membership
- The SAT chair
- SAT activities
- Future-proofing the SAT
The structure of the SAT
How the SAT may be best structured depends on the submitting unit – the SAT may operate as an independent committee that feeds into wider organisational structures, or it may be a subgroup of a broader committee.
You may have a large SAT with smaller sub-groups to focus on specific activity, or a SAT that undertakes everything together. To ensure effectiveness, while also maintaining adequate representation, a more complex structure might be appropriate; for example, a smaller team and a larger working group.
The reporting line will also be important but unique to your institution, department, or professional unit. The SAT is not a review group. They should have authority to make decisions that will drive equality work. Their reporting line should reflect this status.
Ensuring the SAT has this status will partially be driven by who is on the team, who is appointed chair, and how they were chosen.
An open call for members is encouraged, but it is likely that the submitting unit may also have a number of ex-officio roles to consider (e.g. VP for EDI, staff equality network leads, certain Deans or Directors, equality officers, etc.), particularly when forming an institutional-level SAT.
The team should include people from a variety of backgrounds and with different experiences. It should include a proportion of members that reflects the profile of the institution, department or professional unit, with consideration of the equality grounds enshrined in Irish legislation, as well as intersectionality. It is essential that the composition of the SAT does not lead to a disproportionate burden on underrepresented groups.
It is likely that you will also need to select particular people for certain roles. They might represent a certain department or discipline, a group of staff or students, or they might have relevant skills or knowledge. When determining membership of a SAT the following should be considered:
- SATs should include academic, professional, managerial and support staff, researchers, and students at different grades, levels and contract types, and be representative of the submitting unit.
- For an institutional SAT, the team might include at least one person from each of the institution’s faculties, colleges, or other high-level groupings.
- For departmental and professional unit SATs, selection of members may depend on the level of centralised support you have; for example, if there is a particular person that provides data reporting, conducts consultation on behalf of the SAT, etc.
The aim is for each of the main areas of the submitting unit to have a representative on the SAT.
A variety of skillsets will also be welcome on a SAT. This may include:
- Knowledge and experience in advancing equality. This may be a mix of both lived experience and that gained through research and scholarship. SATs may also rely on external expertise to complement the team where there are gaps.
- Understanding of qualitative and quantitative analysis.
- Experience of project management project evaluation.
- Reflective writing.
- Action planning.
It is likely that some SAT members will be involved because of their experience and knowledge of equality, and others will be there because of their role, or experience and knowledge in other areas. For this reason, it may be useful for SAT members to undertake training or facilitated discussions around equality, diversity and inclusion.
As with any committee or team, it can be difficult to determine the optimal number of members for effective discussions, decision making, and workload distribution. Athena Swan Ireland is not prescriptive regarding the size of the SAT, as this will vary depending on the requirements of individual units.
The SAT chair
The chair’s role is crucial as they are publicly stating their commitment to equality. They should be someone who understands the issues and meaning behind the Athena Swan Ireland principles. The chair is responsible for:
- Being an ambassador and advocate of the SAT.
- Driving momentum and encouraging people through the charter framework.
- Ensuring that all members of the SAT take responsibility for completing tasks and are given proportionate responsibility.
Maintaining the power balance within the SAT, ensuring that everyone is able to have their say, and that stronger voices and hierarchy do not overpower discussions and decisions.
The SAT must meet over the course of the self-assessment processes, as well as in implementation and evaluation phases. However, frequency will depend on a number of factors, such as support and information already available to the SAT.
Meetings can take a range of forms and may happen online or in person. Additionally, SAT activity may include attendance at relevant trainings and events, taking part in consultation activity, or other internal or external initiatives that help drive equality activity.
Athena Swan Ireland is not prescriptive about the number of meetings a SAT must have, and submitting units will have their own norms and guidance on committee activity. SATs should have enough meetings to ensure they have sufficient momentum to drive equality work, but not meet so frequently that members are overburdened.
Additional activities and considerations
There are further considerations that will support the effectiveness of the SAT and ensure it functions in an inclusive manner.
There are logistical considerations, such as:
- How many meetings or related activities will you have, when and where will they be, and for how long?
- Who will decide the agenda for SAT meetings, especially the first meeting?
- Will SAT meetings be minuted? Who will have responsibility for that? How will the secretariat of the meetings be supported?
- How will the SAT communicate the work and progress of the SAT to the institution/sub-unit’s wider community, including senior management teams and committees?
As per the charter principles, the adoption of robust, transparent, and accountable processes for Athena Swan Ireland work also warrants consideration. Applicants and SATs may wish to consider:
- How contributions to the SAT are formally recognised and rewarded; for example, via staff development reviews, or in progression and promotion opportunities and processes.
- What resourcing will be available to SAT members; for example, formal workload allocation (via a workload model or similar), or access to dedicated staff support.
- Methods of public recognition and acknowledgement of SAT members.
Future-proofing the SAT
It is also important to consider how the SAT will evolve over time, balancing refreshment of membership with assurance of continuity. It may be helpful to rotate membership so that others have an opportunity to become members of the SAT. You will also need to consider how collective knowledge will be maintained; for example, it may help to stagger the rotation of roles, or have a cross over or shadowing period.
When thinking about future proofing self-assessment activity you should determine mechanisms and governance structures for implementation and evaluation of the action plan over the four years of your award. This should consider who will be held accountable for the successful implementation and evaluation of the action plan, as well as responsibility for overall operationalisation of actions.