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Athena SWAN FAQs

Frequently asked questions about the Athena SWAN Charter

Which award should we apply for?

Up to and including the November 2016 submission round:

  • New HEI members of the charter (who joined post-2015) and AHSSBL departments will need to apply using the post-May 2015 Athena SWAN process.
  • Existing HEI members of the charter (who joined pre-2015) who do not hold an award and STEMM departments which do not hold an award have the choice to apply using either the post-May 2015 forms (on the condition that the institution or department has signed up to the post-2015 May principles) or the original forms, in line with the information above.
  • Existing HEI members of the charter (who joined pre-2015) who currently hold an award and STEMM departments which currently hold an award have the choice to apply for an upgrade or renewal using either the new or the original forms, in line with the information above.

From the April 2017 submission round:

  • All applicants must use the new forms.

What are the differences between the pre-May 2015 and May 2015 applications?

The Athena SWAN Charter has expanded and the post-May 2015 charter is now open to both STEMM and AHSSBL subject areas to apply for awards.

You can download a detailed comparison of the pre and post-May 2015 institutional applications forms and departmental application forms. Some of the changes include:

  • At HEI level both qualitative and quantitative data on professional and support is required. The application forms also now include questions relating to trans staff.
  • For HEI level applications, ECU now asks that the intersection of gender with ethnicity is considered when analysing the data. Further information about this is outlined in the post-May 2015 Athena SWAN awards handbook.
  • At department at both Bronze and Silver level, data and information on professional support staff is required in the Supporting and advancing women’s careers section of the application form. There are different requirements at the Bronze and Silver level which are highlighted within the application forms.
Existing award holders >

Will our Bronze or Silver award automatically become a post-May 2015 Athena SWAN award?

Current awards granted under the pre-2015 Athena SWAN and will not be upgraded to the post-May 2015 Athena SWAN award.

If a department obtains a pre-May 2015 award any time up to and including November 2016, will that become obsolete as the post-May 2015 award takes over?

Pre-May 2015 Athena SWAN members, award holders and their STEMM departments are able to apply for an award using either the pre-May 2015 applications or the post-May 2015 application forms. If they apply using the pre-May 2015 Athena SWAN application forms, the award will still be valid for three years.

All current Athena SWAN and GEM award holders are able to apply for a post-2015 Athena SWAN Charter award at any point, but will have to apply for a post-May 2015 award when the original award is due for renewal.

Applications >

Will institutions be required to have a post-May 2015 charter Bronze award before any departments can apply for the post-May 2015 award?

No. Institutions that are current Athena SWAN members or award holders, or any GEM trial award holding institutions need to show commitment to the post-May 2015 principles. Existing institution Athena SWAN members can chose to sign up to the post-May 2015 principles immediately.

  • Existing members will be required to sign up to the post-May 2015 principles if they intend to enter a department application (for any discipline) using the post-May 2015 application process.
  • Existing members will be required to sign the new principles before they can renew an institutional application, but are invited to sign up to the new principles upon their launch.
  • All members will be expected to have signed the new principles by April 2017.
  • The vice-chancellor/principal of the institutions needs to sign up to the post May-2015 principles by sending Athena SWAN a letter of commitment.

How can an AHSSBL department apply for a post-May 2015 Athena SWAN award?

To apply for a post-May 2015 Athena SWAN award, your institution must hold an Athena SWAN award or a GEM trial award and have committed to the May 2015 principles of the charter.

If your institution does not yet hold an award, unfortunately you are not able to apply.

There is no need for GEM trial award holders to apply for a new award in November 2015. GEM trial award holders are able to apply for a post-May 2015 Athena SWAN award at any point at Bronze or Silver level, before the award is due for renewal.

If an applicant has a pre-May 2015 Bronze award, will it be able to apply for a May 2015 Silver without first obtaining the May 2015 Bronze award?

For institutional applications, the institution must hold a valid Athena SWAN Bronze award or ECU’s gender equality charter mark award (granted in October 2014). The institution is not required to obtain a May 2015 Athena SWAN Bronze award before applying for Silver. However, there should be a clear plan for the progression of any ASHHBL departments in applying for awards in the future.

For departmental applications, there is no requirement to hold a Bronze award before applying for a Silver award.

Further information about this is outlined in the May 2015 Athena SWAN awards handbook.

If an applicant applies for, but fails to gain, a pre-May 2015 Athena SWAN award in November 2015, will they subsequently only be able to apply for the post-May 2015 award in the April 2016 round?

If a department applies for an award using the pre-May 2015 Athena SWAN application form in November 2015 and is unsuccessful, the department will be able to re-apply using either the pre-May or post-May 2015 forms until April 2017. From April 2017 onwards only the post-May 2015 forms will be accepted.

Can we apply for a Gold May 2015 Athena SWAN award?

Currently there are no gold department forms for the post-May 2015 Athena SWAN Charter. If your department is looking to apply for a Gold award, the department will have to apply using the pre-May 2015 charter forms.

Development of Gold department and HEI application forms for post-May 2015 Athena SWAN Charter are in development and will be released later in 2015.

Intersectionality >

What do we mean by ‘intersectionality’?

By intersectionality we mean people’s identities and social positions being shaped by several factors at the same time, creating unique experiences and perspectives. These factors include among others, age, disability, gender, race, religion and sexuality.

For example, the experiences of, and outcomes within, higher education will be very different for a Black woman compared to a white woman. In practice, intersectionality is less about bringing two different factors together, eg older people and disabled people; and more about considering the experience of older disabled people, people at the ‘intersection’ of older age and disability.

Why are we asking institutions to consider intersectionality in their Athena SWAN application?

Athena SWAN is a progressive charter which aims to advance gender equality in UK higher education. The inclusion of intersectionality both as a principle and within the application process is informed by current thinking on gender equality and by ECU’s trial of the race equality charter mark.

Individuals can experience complex discrimination, based on a combination of elements of their identity. It is therefore important that institutions’ equality and diversity work – aimed at tackling discrimination –  is mindful of this complexity when exploring issues and developing solutions. If an intersectional approach is not taken, the discrimination and barriers experienced by some individuals will not be fully understood and tackled.

What do we expect institutions to include about intersectionality in their application form?

The expectation is that SAT teams consider intersectionality in increased detail the higher the level of award.

At Bronze and Silver level universities are expected to consider the role of the intersection of gender with ethnicity when gathering and reporting on data about both academic and professional and support staff. If it is not possible for the institution to cover this within the application at Bronze level, the panel will expect to see that appropriate actions have been put in place to consider intersectionality in the future.

At Silver level the expectation is to provide an explanation of any actions implemented and their impact.

ECU has used the following sources as a basis for some of this guidance on intersectionality:

Professional and support staff >

What is ECU’s definition of professional and support staff, which staff should we include in our submission?

Academic staff includes postdoctoral researchers, teaching only, research only or teaching and research staff including lecturers, fellows and professors.

For institution submissions this includes any staff not included in the above definition of academic staff who is employed by the institution. Staff who are contracted out should not be included.

For department submissions this includes non-academic staff working in the department. This may include administrators and technical support staff.

General FAQs

Submitting >

When do we need to notify you of our intention to submit?

We require that departments and institutions intending to submit inform us of this two months in advance of the deadline. We will remind institutions to do this via the JISCmail list. This helps us to plan the judging panels and awards ceremony. If we have not been informed of an institution or department’s intention to submit by this deadline, the application may not be accepted. A short email note detailing the level at which the application will be made is sufficient.

When is the deadline for submitting applications?

The deadline for all submissions is 5.00pm on the last working day of April or November, by which time we need to have received application by email in PDF format.

Can we request an extension to the deadline?

An extension of up to one week may be granted in exceptional circumstances. The decision to grant an extension is at ECU’s discretion. If the request for an extension is refused, ECU will provide reasons.

Do we need to submit hardcopies of the applications? Can we submit our application in colour?

ECU will reproduce your application for consideration by the awards panel. These will be printed in black and white. If you prefer for your submission to be considered in colour you should post ten colour copies to arrive at ECU within five working days of the deadline. These should be printed double-sided and corner stapled, rather than bound.

Is a fee charged for submissions?

There is an administrative fee of £500 for departmental submissions. This is fee is to cover the increasing costs involved in administering awards rounds and judging panels.

Word count >

Are word limits flexible?

Word limits are required to ensure that submissions are concise enough for panellists to read in advance of the assessment days. The word limits are therefore not flexible.

In the post-May 2015 Athena SWAN Charter, there is an overall word limit and applicants can choose how to aggregate this between sections. ECU does provide recommendations on the appropriate use of the word count across the sections further information can be found in the handbook or the application forms. At the end of each section, please make sure to state the number of words used within the section.

In the original Athena SWAN charter word limits are set out for each section. Words cannot be aggregated across sections. The number of words used in each section should be stated at the end of that section.

How do we apply for a word extension?

Athena SWAN may consider allowing an extension of 1000 words for large faculties, colleges, or other organisational units consisting of numerous departments who wish to apply for a department award. Contact for further details and approval.

Medical schools/departments are automatically eligible to receive these additional words, but must still request them.

Input from ECU >

What input can we expect from ECU’s Equality charters team?

The Equality charters team are happy to answer questions about membership or award applications by phone or email: Contact us. However, please read these FAQs and the awards handbook thoroughly in advance of getting in touch. Please note that staff will not comment on content of award submissions or read through submissions prior to the deadline.

The Equality charters team are receptive to invitations to attend events and workshops where several institutions are represented. Unfortunately there is not sufficient resource to attend individual institutional working groups or events.

Comprehensive feedback on submissions is given, whether successful or unsuccessful. The Equality charters team will attempt to field specific questions arising from the feedback, but are unable to comment on the panel’s judgment.

Please note that at peak times of the year (notably around submission deadlines and while assessment panels are taking place) it may take longer than usual to respond to your query.

Can a member of ECU staff look at our submission prior to the deadline?

ECU can advise applicants on the process and respond to specific queries about a submission. However, we cannot read through entire submissions or comment on content. Any input from the Athena SWAN team is purely advisory, and will not affect the final decision of the panel.

What training and support will ECU be providing in the coming months?

To ensure the robustness and the consistency of the review panels, ECU are in the process of training all review panel chairs and panellists who sign up to take part in each round.

Athena SWAN Regional Network meetings are held regularly to ensure that signatories have a recognised, geographically co-located peer group with whom they can collectively consider gender equality challenges and priorities. More information is available in our Your equality networks section of the website.

ECU are planning to hold workshops about the post-May 2015 Athena SWAN Charter with dates and locations still to be confirmed. A basics webinar is being held on 25 May 2016, and is for anyone who is new to ECU’s Athena SWAN and Race Equality Charter and wants to find out more about them. More information can be found on our events page.

Guidance for applications >

How are AHSSBL and STEMM defined?

For arts, humanities, social sciences business and law (AHSSBL) subject areas the HESA JACS Subject Codes L-X are all recognised as AHSSBL for the purposes of Athena SWAN.

For science, technology, engineering, maths and medicine (STEMM) Athena SWAN uses the BIS definition of STEMM as set out in their Science, Engineering and Technology Skills in the UK report (2nd Report of Session 2012–13). For a more detailed breakdown of STEMM subjects the HESA JACS Subject Codes A-K are all recognised as STEMM for the purposes of Athena SWAN.

Should we apply for a Bronze or Silver department award?

This depends entirely on the department. The self-assessment team should come to a decision based on the results of their self-assessment, how much good practice is already in place and the awards guidance. If a department can show evidence of impact of good practice, there is no reason not to go for Silver. Without clear evidence of such impact, however, departments should aim for a Bronze award.

How do we decide whether to submit as a department, school or faculty?

We understand that although awards are currently only made to universities or departments, organisational structures do not necessarily easily fit this division. However, there are precedents for a wide range of successful submissions from very small departments to large faculties.

Whether you choose to submit as a faculty as a whole or as departments, hinges on the make-up and autonomy of the individual sub-units. When deciding whether to submit as a faculty or individual departments, the following should be considered:

  • sufficient size to pursue the self-assessment process
  • autonomy and control over relevant policies (eg recruitment, induction, promotion, core hours, flexible working)
  • the ability to provide data for their students and staff disaggregated from the rest of the faculty
  • a distinct structure and culture

The Equality charters team is happy to advise on which organisational unit should be put forward for an award. However ultimately this is a decision that must be taken within the institution. This should be done as early as possible in the application process; certainly no later than two months prior to the deadline.

What happens if two departments merge?

If two schools merge that both hold an award the individual schools will still hold their award for the duration of the award validity. When the first award is due for renewal the new merged department will have to apply for a new award. If the new school is successful any previous awards held will no longer be valid.

If the structure of the award-holding institution/department changes significantly during the period of award validity, please contact the ECU. It may require a new, updated submission.

Examples of structure change:

  • merging/splitting of departments
  • staffing restructure

Where do we find appropriate benchmarking data?

We understand that it is not always easy to find appropriate benchmarks. ECU has purchased data from the Higher Education Statistical Agency (HESA), which is available in our resources section of the website. This is password protected. Institutional key contacts have been provided with the password for this area.

All institutions should have access to their statistical report from HESA – we recommend contacting your HR department to access this. Learned and professional societies also hold some data on gender. Other sources of information that may be of use are the ECU Equality in higher education: statistical report, the Medical and Dental Schools Councils and the Research Councils.

How should we include clinical and/or allied health professionals in our staffing data?

Departments with clinical and non-clinical staff should separate these two groups when presenting staff data.
The Athena SWAN Charter assessment process will look at the staff you employ directly. Commonly for departments who carry out clinical work this includes:

  • clinical academics employed directly by your department including those who also carry out programmed activities outside the University in a medical setting.
  • academic clinical fellows
  • academic Clinical Lecturers
  • allied health professionals employed directly by your department
  • GPs and GDPs employed directly by your department including those who also carry out programmed activities outside the University in a medical setting

You may also wish to refer to refer to any qualitative data you have for clinical or allied health professional staff who are not employed by you but who are contracted to carrying out programme activities/duties for you in substantive roles (eg medical education roles). This is no requirement to include these people in your quantitative data.

Results >

When will the results be announced?

ECU aims to release the results five months after the submission deadline. Feedback is also sent for applications which were unsuccessful. For those that were successful both at the level applied for and at a lower level, the feedback will be sent after the results are announced. See the Athena SWAN awards handbook for more information.

Will our submission be published online?

Applicants that receive awards should publish their submission on their own websites and inform ECU of the associated web address. Any personal or confidential information may be removed from the submission prior to doing this.

Is there an appeals process?

There is now a process for appeals and objections, further information can be found in the May 2015 guide to process.

Project Juno Champions >

How do we apply if we are a physics department with Juno Champion status?

If you hold Project Juno Champion status from the most recent awards round, you can convert this into an Athena SWAN Silver award by resubmitting your application to us, along with a letter of endorsement from the head of the department. If you hold Champion status from older rounds, please contact us to discuss any updates we may require.

Please also contact us if you are thinking of applying to both schemes at the same time.

Republic of Ireland >

When can institutions and departments from the Republic of Ireland submit an application?

Applicants from Ireland may submit on the last working day of April and November each year. More information on Athena SWAN in Ireland can be found here, or you can contact the Athena SWAN Programme Manager for Ireland.


Self-Assessment Process >

To participate in the Athena SWAN Charter, the submitting unit (e.g. university, department, research institute, faculty, institute of technology, etc.) will need to establish a strong and effective self-assessment team (SAT). Having an effective SAT and undertaking a thorough self-assessment is key to the success of an application and fundamentally, to the effectiveness of the process. More detail can be found in our guide to the self-assessment process.

SAT Guidance July 2017 PDF

SAT Guidance July 2017 Word document