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Building communities of good practice

Published: 08/06/2016

Research officer Dr Julia Halej outlines our work, supported by the Wellcome Trust, to identify initiatives that make a real impact on gender equality in higher education institutions.

With limited resources, it is particularly important for higher education institutions to focus their efforts on proven initiatives that have a real impact on equality.

Every year, ECU receives hundreds of Athena SWAN Charter submissions outlining institutions’ progress toward gender equality and areas for further action. These submissions are an invaluable resource for examples of gender equality initiatives which have proven successful in the higher education sector.

But while we publish short good practice examples in award booklets for every Athena SWAN awards round, and despite many award winners publishing their submissions online, it remains difficult for teams in other institutions to find and identify impactful initiatives that they could transfer to their own context.

With funding from the Wellcome Trust, we have been investigating ways to build a more comprehensive picture of the work undertaken at award-winning institutions, and to allow for a more in-depth exploration of good practice examples of gender equality initiatives by key areas of interest.

As a first stage of this, the research team analysed 62 successful departmental Athena SWAN submissions from biomedical disciplines, identifying good practice examples making a real impact on departmental cultures, structures and practices.

From this analysis, we have developed a framework for categorising these examples. Initiatives have been organised according to the specific areas they seek to address: from improving departmental culture, to practical issues such as supporting returners after career breaks, conducting promotions, and achieving gender balance on committees.

The next stage of this work is to share some of the top tips and case studies on a number of key topics across Athena SWAN submissions, and we’ll be building up a bank of online resources over the coming months. Areas that came up consistently across submissions included departmental culture, initiatives around career breaks, and gender equality in promotions.

Using this pilot project as a base, we are exploring the opportunities, and seeking funding, to build a searchable database of these examples in the future and adding more successful submissions. Not only would this support Athena SWAN members, the practice will be transferable to many contexts and will help us to support and advise you in your work.

ECU hopes that the Wellcome Trust pilot project will result in the creation of a community of good practice, a platform for HEIs to share initiatives and approaches, and inspire each other’s work to advance gender equality in the sector.