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"Significant step forward” for gender equality as five institutions in Ireland awarded Athena SWAN Bronze

31 Mar 2021 | Advance HE Five institutes of technology and 10 departments recognised through Athena SWAN awards

Five institutes of technology and 10 departments have been recognised for measures to improve gender equality in higher education in the latest round of Athena SWAN awards, announced today (31 March 2021).

The institutes of technology in Athlone, Dundalk, Galway-Mayo, Letterkenny and Sligo each receive a Bronze award, which recognises that the institutions have identified their key gender equality challenges and opportunities and have action plans to drive progress.

Awards made to Athlone IT, Dundalk IT, Galway-Mayo IT, Letterkenny IT, and IT Sligo bring the total number of institutions in Ireland with Athena SWAN Bronze to 19. Ten university departments also receive Bronze in this assessment round, meaning a total of 52 departments now hold awards across Ireland’s higher education sector.

Simon Harris, T.D., Minister for Further and Higher Education, Research, Innovation and Science, said, “My department is working to ensure gender equality across Higher and Further Education. I very much welcome today’s announcement of the 15 new Athena SWAN awards. These awards represent a significant step forward for gender equality in our higher education institutions. We are making progress on this issue, and these awards recognise the commitment that our institutions are making to improving gender equality for those working in higher education”.

Dr Victoria Brownlee, Head of Athena SWAN Ireland, said, “Progress on gender equality right across higher education is essential for retaining talent and ensuring our institutions at all levels are representative of society”.  

“These are the first entry-level awards to recognise institutions and departments taking action to address gender inequalities in career development experienced by professional, managerial and support staff as well as by academic staff. It’s very encouraging to see so many applicants engage in improvements to support the spectrum of staff roles in the sector”.

Commenting on the institutional awards achieved, Dr Joseph Ryan, CEO of THEA said, “Achieving an Athena SWAN Bronze institutional award is a significant milestone, involving considerable commitment and effort across institutional teams. We are particularly happy to see that the workshops and training sessions run by THEA recently on race equality and intersectionality, among others, have contributed to institutions’ Athena SWAN success. We are looking forward to assisting institutions as they work towards departmental awards over the coming months and years.”

The latest department awards conferred include a joint application from the University of Limerick’s Department of Computer Science & Information Systems (CSIS) and the Science Foundation Ireland (SFI) Centre Lero - the first Athena SWAN award for a Department that includes an SFI Centre. The University of Limerick and Trinity College Dublin also gain the first departmental Athena SWAN awards in Ireland for computer science.

Remarking on the institutional and department awards conferred in this round, Dr Ross Woods from the Centre of Excellence for Equality, Diversity and Inclusion at the HEA said, “The Athena SWAN charter is an invaluable lever in changing institutional and departmental cultures. The news of these awards is timely with the recent announcement that a gender 

equality plan will be a requirement for Horizon Europe funding, with nearly all higher education institutions in Ireland holding one as part of the Athena SWAN process.”

The 10 new departments in Irish HEIs achieving an Athena SWAN Bronze award in the November 2020 round are:

Athena SWAN Ireland

More about the Athena SWAN Charter

The Athena SWAN Charter is an accreditation framework that is used across the globe to support and transform gender equality in higher education (HE) and research. Athena SWAN launched in Ireland in 2015 and versions of the charter are in place in the UK, Australia, the U.S.A., and Canada.

The charter was established in 2005 to encourage and recognise commitment to advancing the careers of women in science, technology, engineering, maths and medicine (STEMM) employment. It has since been expanded to address gender equality more broadly, not just barriers to progression that affect women. The charter also now includes Arts, Humanities, Social Science, Business and Law (AHSSBL) departments as well as professional, managerial and support staff working in HE. In Ireland, an additional process to facilitate enhanced inclusion of professional, managerial and support staff at entry-level (Bronze) launched in 2020.

Athena SWAN awards are conferred at Bronze, Silver, and Gold to institutions and departments, and in Ireland, all 71 (19 institutions; 52 departments) awards are at Bronze level.

Bronze award holders are recognised for their detailed self-assessments of gender equality, their commitment to targeted action plans, and their capacity to deliver these plans and bring about change. Silver and Gold awards recognise institutions and departments that have a record of activity and achievement in relation to gender equality and are leaders of good practice in the sector and wider community.

Engagement with the Athena SWAN charter is a key pillar of Ireland’s national strategy for gender equality in higher education. The Department’s Gender Action Plan 2018-2020  has explicit recommendations and actions for HEIs in relation to the attainment of Athena SWAN certification and eligibility for research funding. Institutional access to Athena SWAN Ireland is provided by the Higher Education Authority.

Athena SWAN Ireland is managed by Advance HE, a registered charity that works with governments, sector agencies, institutions and individuals to support higher education. Advance HE provides resources, training and recognition schemes – one of which is the Athena SWAN Charter.

Join us at  'The Next Steps for Equality, Diversity and Inclusion': Advance HE's Inaugural Conference in Ireland, online, 09:30-16:30, Thursday 10 June 2021

The conference will explore the themes of teaching and learning, EDI, governance and leadership in the specific Irish context aimed at both institutions in Ireland and Northern Ireland. The conference will take Equality, Diversity and Inclusion as an overarching theme and consider how this work needs to be developed across institutions including through inclusive leadership, inclusive curricular and inclusive practice. This builds on the already well-established work around Athena SWAN and Aurora in Ireland.

Through a mix of keynote speakers and workshop sessions this one-day conference will look to share best practice between those in the HE sector as well as seeking examples other sectors that can be adopted in HE institutions. 

Join the conversation at #AHEIreland21

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