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Reflections post Silver Athena SWAN award

22 Jun 2018 | Katie McManus and Amy McSweeny When the Faculty of Medicine and Dentistry at the University of Plymouth achieved its Silver award (as Peninsula Schools of Medicine and Dentistry) in April 2017, we were thrilled - as any department or institution naturally would be.

When the Faculty of Medicine and Dentistry at the University of Plymouth achieved its Silver award (as Peninsula Schools of Medicine and Dentistry) in April 2017, we were thrilled - as any department or institution naturally would be.

But Athena SWAN is not about ticking a box or having something to display – and we know it never means “job done”. It is all about continuous improvement and commitment to equality. 

Writing this blog as two members of professional services staff, it’s great to see that professional services are now included in the Athena SWAN criteria. It is particularly welcome when considering development opportunities and ensuring we encourage talented staff of all grades and backgrounds to excel. It also means our Athena SWAN work can truly be a whole Faculty approach, without groups being overlooked.

We do a lot to measure impact through activities in our action plan, and when evidence of real change happens – particularly when it is noticed by those in the Faculty – there is a real sense of achievement. Low staff turnover, engagement in mentoring, positive feedback from events that offer childcare, high levels of staff engagement with equality training, and high response rates for the annual staff survey, are all results of our Athena SWAN action plan. 

As well as making a difference to the Faculty as a whole, one of the most rewarding parts of being involved in Athena SWAN work has been the personal connections made. The two of us met, and started working together, as a result of Athena SWAN and from this, interests and experiences have been shared – notably frustrations at the cultural challenges of being sporty girls growing up – and a friendship has grown. Those connections also make the day-to-day job more enjoyable, knowing you have that support and a sounding board for any ideas or concerns.

In addition, it has been brilliant to see those who have otherwise not engaged with Athena SWAN become passionately involved. Our International Women’s Day event saw the Faculty host a Global Health Conference with engagement from staff around the University, students on a variety of courses, and the local community. The majority had not been involved with Athena SWAN activities before and were so enthused by the event and the preparation that took place. The afternoon saw researchers speak about subjects ranging from refugees to body positivity, and feedback was really positive.

‘Self-assessment’ as a term relates to the process of obtaining the award, but it has been taken quite literally in our case. Thanks to being involved with Athena SWAN, we have challenged our own thoughts and perceptions and dared to change our thinking. Unconscious biases exist in everyone, and having them isn’t synonymous with ‘being bad’. The University runs mandatory unconscious bias training and we hope that by complementing this, with sharing our own experiences, we can help to tackle the issue in all of us.  

Guest blog by Katie McManus (Equality and Inclusion Officer) and
Amy McSweeny (Media and Communications Officer) at the Faculty of Medicine and Dentistry, University of Plymouth for Athena SWAN’s 13th birthday #AthenaSWANis13

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