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Impact of equality charters

ECU’s equality charters are based on an effective methodology that can make a real impact.

ECU’s Athena SWAN methodology is at the heart of our equality charters. Much more than a tick box exercise, the charters aim to be a catalyst for cultural change and to make a real impact for staff and students.

Making a measurable difference

In 2011 ECU undertook an internal evaluation of the Athena SWAN Charter, which found clear evidence of the impact that is had at institutional level and for individuals.

The research identified impact on organisational structure and culture change, with increases in the proportion of women, better representation of women on committees, improvements in the transition from postdoctoral researcher to first academic post, improved working practices to support career progression and growth in women’s networking across institutions.

An effective approach

As Athena SWAN continued to grow, and was referenced by others as a requirement or expectation, ECU wanted to further examine the effectiveness of the charter in advancing women’s careers, the impact on culture and attitudes and the sustainability of those changes.

With this in mind, in 2013 we commissioned a team from Loughborough University to undertake a comprehensive, independent assessment of the impact and benefit of the Athena SWAN Charter on participating higher education institutions and on the wider sector.

We were particularly interested in discovering differences across award levels and disciplines, and also investigating the differences between members and eligible institutions that are not part of the charter.

Key findings

The Loughborough research team found considerable evidence of the positive impact of Athena SWAN on the career development and satisfaction of women working in STEMM as well as evidence of the value of Athena SWAN as a driver for improving gender diversity.

  • In many areas institutions and departments that hold an Athena SWAN award were more advanced than those that did not.
  • There was evidence that some changes in culture and attitude had been achieved, and considerable evidence that the changes that were implemented as a result of the Athena SWAN process were sustainable.
  • There are positive differences between departments achieving different award levels.
  • It isn’t just academic staff who benefit. Administrative and technical staff in silver departments felt they had more support for their career development and progression than in departments without awards.
  • The research also identified a number of issues that continue to prevent women from reaching their full potential in the STEMM field. It found that there is yet to be a significant impact on postgraduate student experience, and little on the undergraduate population.
  • Although most respondents value the awards process and found the workload involved to be appropriate, some departmental champions feel that it creates an excessive burden.
  • Respondents raised specific issues with some aspects of the Athena SWAN process.

The report sets out a number of recommendations for ECU that will help us continue to refine and improve our processes so that Athena SWAN remains an effective tool for HEIs and a valuable benchmark for excellence in gender equality. Developments focusing on several of the issues identified in the recommendations have been made as part of the May 2015 expansion of the charter to art, humanities, social science, business and law disciplines.