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History of Athena SWAN (pre May 2015)

The history of Advance HE's Athena SWAN Charter.

The Athena SWAN Charter evolved from work between the Athena Project and the Scientific Women’s Academic Network (SWAN), to advance the representation of women in science, technology, engineering, medicine and mathematics (STEMM).

The following principles were agreed:

  • To address gender inequalities requires commitment and action from everyone, at all levels of the organisation
  • To tackle the unequal representation of women in science requires changing cultures and attitudes across the organisation
  • The absence of diversity at management and policy-making levels has broad implications which the organisation will examine
  • The high loss rate of women in science is an urgent concern which the organisation will address
  • The system of short-term contracts has particularly negative consequences for the retention and progression of women in science, which the organisation recognises
  • There are both personal and structural obstacles to women making the transition from PhD into a sustainable academic career in science, which require the active consideration of the organisation

The principles represent the cornerstone of Athena SWAN; to join the Charter, vice-chancellors or principals must indicate that their institution will take action to address these areas. These principles were expanded in May 2015.

With the support of Equality Challenge Unit (now part of Advance HE) and the UKRC, the Charter was officially launched at the Institute of Physics on 22 June 2005, with the first awards conferred in 2006.

The Charter has grown consistently from its inception and Athena SWAN awards have gone from strength to strength.

Athena SWAN received a major boost in 2011, when the UK Chief Medical Officer announced that the National Institute for Health Research would only expect to shortlist medical schools for Biomedical Research Centre (BRC) and Unit (BRU) funding if the associate academic school holds a Silver Athena SWAN award. This was later expanded to include Patient Safety Research Centre funding in 2012. Athena SWAN has since started to work with the Medical and Dental Schools Councils. In 2016, in the first round of funding to be awarded since the Chief Medical Officer’s announcement, the Department of Health awarded £816m to 20 BRCs, all of which are associated with a Silver Athena SWAN award-holding academic unit (

For more information on Athena SWAN requirements for NIHR funding, please contact the NIHR directly.

Although Research Councils UK (RCUK) does not link Athena SWAN to funding, in January 2013 it launched its ‘Statement of Expectations for Equality and Diversity’, which stated that it expects those in receipt of Research Council funding to “provide evidence of ways in which equality and diversity issues are managed at both an institutional and department level”. It recommended that the evidence include participation in schemes such as Athena SWAN and Project Juno. The RCUK press release can be found here: RCUK announces policy to support equality and diversity in research. The RCUK has since released its Action Plan on Equality, Diversity and Inclusion (

The Charter is managed by Advance HE.