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The Athena SWAN self-assessment team at the University.

The University has retained its Athena SWAN Bronze institution award, after undertaking a two-year assessment of gender equality.

Athena SWAN is a national scheme, run by Advance HE, an organisation which came into being in March 2018, following the merger of the Equality Challenge Unit, the Higher Education Academy and the Leadership Foundation for Higher Education.

The Athena SWAN Charter recognises a commitment to supporting and advancing gender equality: representation, progression and success for all.

The Charter was established to encourage advancing women's careers in science, technology, engineering, maths and medicine (STEMM) in higher education and research and since the University received its Bronze award, Athena SWAN’s criteria have changed, so that the institution needed to be reassessed. Since May 2015, the Charter has been expanded to recognise work undertaken in arts, humanities, social sciences, business and law (AHSSBL), and in professional and support roles, and for trans staff and students. The Charter now recognises work undertaken to address gender equality more broadly, not solely barriers to progression that affect women.

The two-year internal assessment included quantitative (staff data) and qualitative evidence of policies, practices, systems and arrangements, identifying both challenges and opportunities. This led to the development of a 63-point, four-year plan for the University that builds on this assessment, information on activities that are already in place and what has been learned from them. The institution’s self-assessment team comprised academic and professional staff from across the University.

Vice-Chancellor, Professor Tim Wheeler, said: “This is excellent news for the University and we are extremely proud to have retained our Athena SWAN status. Our self-assessment team has been key to the success of the application, and our next steps are to continue to meet, to carry the proposed actions forward. I would like to thank them for all their hard work – and to all colleagues across the University who contributed their feedback and opinions.”

The Athena SWAN Charter process is based on 10 key principles. By being part of Athena SWAN, institutions are committing to a progressive charter; adopting these principles within their policies, practices, action plans and culture:

1. We acknowledge that academia cannot reach its full potential unless it can benefit from the talents of all.

2. We commit to advancing gender equality in academia, in particular addressing the loss of women across the career pipeline and the absence of women from senior academic, professional and support roles.

3. We commit to addressing unequal gender representation across academic disciplines and professional and support functions. In this we recognise disciplinary differences including:

  • the relative underrepresentation of women in senior roles in arts, humanities, social sciences, business and law (AHSSBL)
  • the particularly high loss rate of women in science, technology, engineering, mathematics and medicine (STEMM).
    4. We commit to tackling the gender pay gap.
    5. We commit to removing the obstacles faced by women, in particular, at major points of career development and progression including the transition from PhD into a sustainable academic career.
    6. We commit to addressing the negative consequences of using short-term contracts for the retention and progression of staff in academia, particularly women.
    7. We commit to tackling the discriminatory treatment often experienced by trans people.
    8. We acknowledge that advancing gender equality demands commitment and action from all levels of the organisation and in particular active leadership from those in senior roles.
    9. We commit to making and mainstreaming sustainable structural and cultural changes to advance gender equality, recognising that initiatives and actions that support individuals alone will not sufficiently advance equality.
    10. All individuals have identities shaped by several different factors. We commit to considering the intersection of gender and other factors wherever possible.
    Academics are also supporting the Athena SWAN agenda beyond the University of Chester. Professor Chantal Davies, Professor of Law, Equality and Diversity, was recently the keynote speaker at the Athena SWAN Ireland Awards in Dublin, alongside the Irish Minister of State for Higher Education, Mary Mitchell O’Connor.
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