Faculty celebrates prestigious Athena Swan Bronze award with equality plan underway

The Faculty of Arts, Humanities and Cultures at the University of Leeds has been awarded a prestigious bronze award under the Athena SWAN charter.

The Charter is a framework used around the world to support and transform gender equality within higher education. Initially established in 2005 to recognise efforts to support the career development of women in science, technology, engineering, maths and medicine (STEMM), the Charter is now a global standard for gender equality more broadly.

A team of more than 20 staff from the faculty worked on the Athena SWAN application over the course of year, examining data to identify gendered inequalities, including student progression and achievements and research careers. Deputy Dean Kate Nash said the application process had been ‘incredibly valuable’ and had prompted the team to ask key questions about how the Faculty operates across its nine diverse schools, with 8,000 students and 1,000 staff. She said: “It’s really built huge momentum in the Faculty about gender inequalities and addressing equality more generally, taking an intersectional perspective.”  

Athena swan bronze

As part of the application, the team presented an action plan to address gender equality challenges, including women being underrepresented in promotions to Professor, Grade 10.  Professor Nash explained: “We’ve started a series of promotion workshops exclusively for women at Grade 9, encouraging them to talk about and connect with each other and think about what it means to be a professor. It’s been incredibly popular.

We want to challenge often very masculine assumptions about being a professor. We want to support women to see themselves as professors and put themselves forward for promotion.

Professor Kate Nash

The team is also carrying out a listening circles project to learn how gender impacts learning experiences for students of all genders, with an aim of making the learning experience the best it can be for all.  Work first began on the application in April 2020, meeting virtually due to the Covid-19 lockdown, and getting creative with digital tools to aid collaboration.  

Professor Nash said: “It’s an incredibly detailed and thoughtful piece of work.  Just taking the time to do that has prompted us to ask a whole bunch of questions about how we do things. So that’s been incredibly valuable.”  

The team also plans to explore the differences between men’s and women’s research careers at the faculty, looking at data and exploring individuals’ experiences to determine how best to support women’s research. “We may have found some key differences in  research careers, which has prompted us to further explore women’s research careers and how they might be supported.  It’s incredibly valuable as a process,” Professor Nash explained. Actions from the plan have already begun within the faculty – and could lead to further Athena SWAN awards in the future.  

Professor Nash said: “We would like to go for the silver award. The first priority is to deliver on the action plan, and keep working to understand what our issues are.”

Athena Swan panel praises plans underway

The Athena Swan panel, which judged the application, commended the Faculty for its strong leadership and intersectional pesperctives, as well as plans to expand student involvement. 

It also praised the foundational work already undertaken to profess gender equality and said the action plan was ‘comprehensive and prioritised’.

There are plans to appoint a dedicated lead for Athena Swan within the faculty and for the self-assessment team to be formalty recognised as a sub-committee of the Equality, Diversity and Inclusion Committee.