Chief Medical Officer links gender equality to future funding
Calls for medical schools to achieve Athena SWAN Silver award to gain funding for biomedical research centres and units
In a letter to the Medical Schools Council on 29 July 2011, the Chief Medical Officer, Professor Dame Sally C Davies outlined her intention that all medical schools who wish to apply for NIHR Biomedical Research Centres and Units funding need to have achieved an Athena SWAN Charter for women in science Silver Award.
Sarah Hawkes oversees the Athena SWAN Charter and is based at main funders Equality Challenge Unit. In response to the Chief Medical Officer's letter, she commented:
'The recent Sex and Power report from the Equality and Human Rights Commission shows there is a continued lack of women in senior management roles. In the higher education sector, the underrepresentation is most acute in science, engineering and technology subjects - be it clinical academia or more widely.
To our knowledge, the Chief Medical Officer's statement marks the first time that criteria for major funding has been explicitly linked to gender equality. This is a very welcome step, and one that provides an opportunity for medical schools and higher education institutions to take the lead on creating gender parity.
We are delighted that the Department of Heath have recognised the impact and benefits that working towards an Athena SWAN award can have on the quality and success of female academics, their immediate departments and the institution as a whole.
We will be meeting with the Chief Medical Officer, and with the Medical School's Council to discuss how best to support the medical schools and ensure that Athena SWAN criteria and processes are adapted for the needs and context of clinical academia.'
 For example, 14.5% of professors in SET departments are female. This figure rises to 24.5% in non-SET departments. Equality in higher education: statistical report 2010, p19.
About Athena SWAN
The Athena SWAN Charter has been running since 2005, and the awards recognise the commitment of institutions and science, engineering and technology (SET) departments to addressing gender inequalities, to tackling the unequal representation of women in science and to improving career progression for female academics.
Athena SWAN is jointly owned by ECU and the UKRC. It is funded by ECU, UKRC, the Higher Education Funding Council for England, the Royal Society and the Biochemical Society.
About the awards
Bronze university award: Recognises that the university has a solid foundation for eliminating gender bias and is developing an inclusive culture that values all staff.
Bronze department award: Recognises that in addition to institution-wide policies the department has identified particular challenges and is planning activities to address these for the future.
Silver department award: Recognises that in addition to institution-wide policies the department has a significant record of activity and achievement and has identified particular challenges, has implemented activities and can demonstrate their impact so far.
Silver university award: Recognises a significant record of activity and achievement by the university in promoting gender equality and in addressing challenges across the full range of SET departments within the university. Universities should demonstrate that Athena SWAN is well embedded, with strong leadership in promoting the Charter principles and evidence of the impact of Athena SWAN activities.
Gold award: Gold department awards recognise a significant and sustained progression and achievement by the department in promoting gender equality and to address challenges particular to the discipline. Gold departments should be beacons of achievement in gender equality and should champion and promote good practice to the wider community.