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Topic 5: Creating Your Gender Action Plan

On this page you will find guidance on creating your gender action plan for the transformed UK Athena Swan Charter.

On this page you will find a short video on Creating your gender action plan and written guidance on the following:

  • Gender Action Themes
  • Actions and Outcomes
  • Positive Action vs. Actions
  • Collaborative Working

Guidance video on Creating your gender action plan for the transformed UK Athena Swan Charter

In this video, Clare Merritt, Charters Assessment Manager, explores action planning in the context of the transformed UK Athena Swan Charter to assist members preparing an application under the new Charter framework.

Gender Action Themes

Gender Action Plans are informed by inequalities that you have identified and collected evidence on. By the time you are creating your action plan, you should have a good idea about the areas that require work or change, and what your priorities for this might be.

Once you have identified these you can break down your priorities into more specific recognition of what needs to change, i.e. what outcomes need to be achieved for gender equality. In order to achieve these outcomes, we must identify actions that will contribute to these changes and lead to particular outcomes.

Identified actions will vary across applications but here are some examples of what these might broadly be based around:

1. Improving Infrastructure

This might involve working on building up the systems and structures that are needed to enhance gender equality. This might involve resource management, identifying and effectively drawing on staff skills and building up relationships which support your gender equality journey.

For some institutions infrastructure might involve practical changes too, involving technology and physical space development and management.

2. Enhancing Understanding and Collective Ownership

This involves recognising that there are those who have the power to influence the state of gender equality. They might be those who have more contact with students, who are decision-makers for directorates or departments or those who represent the organisation.

This is linked to culture as often this needs to change from the top down and those who are in these places of power can greatly influence the approach to gender equality.  

3. Improving Culture

This might involve establishing a better understanding of your culture and attempting to make it a more inclusive and supportive one. We discuss this in more depth in Assessing your Culture.

4. Improving representation  

This might include working towards greater representation of minority genders in directorates and departments. Recruitment, marketing and course packaging must be designed in a way that encourages applications from minority genders, while processes and practices around recruitment and progression must be fair and transparent so as not to disadvantage any particular group.

Diversifying the population of an institution is an effective way of adding more diverse voices and perspectives to the equality discussions going on and helps to create an overall more equal organisation. 

5. Improving Experiences and Outcomes

This might involve recognising good practice, as well as identifying where things can be improved, in order to ensure that effective and impactful interventions are celebrated and sustained.

Recognising areas of achievement and supporting people to achieve themselves is key to both building greater gender equality and recognising impact. This in turn helps create a gender inclusive environment and an enhanced student and staff experience.


Consider how the actions and outcomes that your Gender Action Plan identifies fit into the above five themes (and/or any other themes you identify as part of your analysis). While each theme does not need to be addressed to an equal level, each should be considered and actions should be organised around them. There are several things that should inform the design of your actions.

Athena Swan topic 4 guidance

When designing your actions, you also need to consider how “actionable” they are.

For example, consider using SMART actions. This stands for “specific, measurable, achievable, relevant and time-bound”. Keeping this at the front of your mind when designing actions is a good way to ensure that they are as actionable as possible.

It might be tempting to include actions that are very broad e.g. “Recruit more female students” but this isn’t as “doable” an action as “host female-focused student open day” or “have female staff members speak to school students about engineering courses”. 

It might also be tempting to include actions that are too ambitious. For example, an action such as “train all staff in X within two months” may not be practical.

Remember that your action plan will be a working document, referred to often by a range of people over the coming years. Keep actions focused and specific, they need to be clearly worded and easy to understand.

Each action needs to be the responsibility of an individual or group. Where a group is responsible it is advisable that one person is still named as the overseer of the action. This must be made clear both to the responsible party and in the Gender Action Plan itself. The responsible party will ideally have the responsibility of carrying out the action, recording and monitoring the action and assessing its eventual success and impact.

Positive Action Vs. Action

In some instances, it may be valuable to engage in positive action. Positive action is not the same as just gender-focused action. While some of the actions required to deliver your outcomes may very well be gender-focused they might not come under the definition of positive action. Instead positive action specifically refers to active and voluntary actions that are taken to specifically address imbalances. This is an action that is specifically designed to actively benefit a minority gender. It is different from a regular action in that it may offer additional support or targeted resources for that minority group.

For example, if a health sciences faculty holds an information day for all potential nursing applicants this is a regular action. If, however it holds an information day just for male nursing applicants then this is a positive action as it specifically targets the minority gender in this field.

Positive actions can be useful tools to address inequalities and can be a useful action for you to include. Some applicants in the past have been a little unsure about engaging with this as they can feel too targeted but they are a valuable way to challenge and tackle systemic disadvantage and offer additional support to those who may have additional struggles.

For more information about positive action, please see here.

Outcomes and impact

If we consider that actions are intended to result in change, each action needs to have a related outcome that the action seeks to achieve. Be clear in your plan about which actions are linked to which outcomes. The outcomes need to be clear and measurable.

For example, it would be difficult to measure an abstract goal like “commitment”, therefore an outcome such as “staff are more committed to gender equality” would be difficult to measure. Whereas an outcome such as “X% of staff have embedded EDI considerations in their curriculum following training” might represent a more measurable assessment of how staff are applying their greater commitment. In this instance, take-up of the training could also be an interim milestone that might be designed into the action.

For the purposes of Athena Swan, outcomes need to specifically contribute towards an overall advancement in gender equality. Be clear in how the outcome is relevant and important as part of achieving this goal. It is important to continually measure the impact of interventions. This can be done through planning in milestones, target meetings, and regular updates.

Collaborative Working

Institutions rarely work in isolation and when it comes to developing your gender equalities there is no expectation that you necessarily improve things alone.

Collaborations and partnerships can include a number of different people. The first step is to consider who else in your institution might be useful. Often you will find that there are staff around the institution who have experience and expertise that may be drawn on for your application. 

You may also wish to look externally. The local community may be a good place to look for expertise and support, along with gender-focused charities and other external organisations such as learned societies and professional bodies.

Consider how partnerships could help achieve outcomes and make actions more varied and achievable.

For example, if one of your outcomes is to get more women into STEM disciplines then working alongside STEM learned societies may help further this goal.

Partnership working can also help in awareness-raising as external organisations will be more aware of and can help amplify your commitments to gender equality. Equally it may be that partnership working is a useful tool in “influencing the influencers”. Often partners that may come on-board with a particular directorate or department represent key stakeholders in the field. Their commitment to gender equality will also help create a culture of equality in relevant workplaces and in wider practices in your area.