It never ceases to amaze me how a seed of an idea can be so enthusiastically grasped by committed individuals and made a reality. That was certainly the case for Newcastle University’s celebration event to mark 10 years of engaging with the Athena SWAN Charter (first award in 2009), definitely a milestone worth celebrating!
Our event was held on the 21 November 2019 and attended by over 120 colleagues who were either members of Self-assessment teams or had been actively involved in delivering gender equality work at Newcastle University. Our Vice-Chancellor and President, Prof Chris Day, spoke proudly about the journey we have been on over the past 10 years, and thanked all those involved:
“Without all of you, without your effort, your advocacy and your commitment, we would not be where we are today and you can all be justifiably proud of what you have achieved, individually and collectively”.
He highlighted some successes: from increasing the proportion of women in our professoriate to 29% and the number of women Heads of School to 41% and key initiatives such as our landmark Returners’ Support Programme which supports colleagues who are returning from a period of caring leave. He also gave some personal reflections on what Athena SWAN has meant to him.
We shared a short film made especially for the event by the ever enthusiastic and committed Chair of Newcastle University’s Women Professors network, Karen Ross, Professor of Gender and Media, which provided an overview from colleagues of what their engagement with the Athena SWAN Charter has meant to them whilst also giving the audience a glimpse of the person behind the role. Our presentations from Hilary Noone (chair, NU Women Professional) and Laura Heels (Teaching Fellow, Department of Computing) on how gender equality and Athena SWAN at the University had supported their career progression, were both emotional and inspiring.
Prof Julie Sanders, our deputy Vice-Chancellor and Executive Board sponsor for Equality, Diversity and Inclusion, who has been such an advocate of gender equality, talked about her vision for the future and many of the projects already underway and designed to ensure that the University will be: “a brilliant, diverse, inclusive, creative and inspirational place to work. Roll on the next decade!” Entertainment from the captivating student group Al Capella provided a fitting end to what was an uplifting event.
The Athena SWAN Charter is currently going through a welcome review. Any initiative has its supporters and detractors. Not everyone may immediately see the value of engaging with a charter mark to effect real change. At Newcastle University, it has certainly enabled us to have honest discussions, reflect on the barriers and challenges facing gender equality and to introduce policies and practices which are having positive impact. We recognise we are on a journey and that there is a long way still to go. Sometimes the hardest part of any journey is starting it. This goes way beyond strategies, policies and initiatives; it is also about capturing hearts and minds. Our hope is that all our colleagues will genuinely feel supported by this work and that real change can happen to build a truly inclusive University that we can all be proud of.
Thanks to all those who made the seed a reality, for sharing your time and experiences so generously. Here’s to the next 10 years!
Judith Rankin is Newcastle University’s Dean of Equality, Diversity and Inclusion and chair of the University’s Athena SWAN Self-assessment team. Find out more about the Athena SWAN Charter.