Athena SWAN FAQs
Frequently asked questions about the Athena SWAN Charter
Frequently asked questions about the Athena SWAN Charter
From the April 2017 submission round all applicants must use the expanded (post-May) forms.
The exceptions are for Research Institutes and Irish Universities. Research Institutes that joined before July 2016 can choose to apply using the pre-May 2015 criteria up to and including the November 2017 awards round. Applicants from Ireland may use the original process (pre-may 2015), or the expanded process (post-may 2015). All applicants from Ireland must use the expanded process by November 2020.
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.
Current awards granted under the pre-2015 Athena SWAN will not be upgraded to the post-May 2015 Athena SWAN award.
No, however the institution to which the applicant department belongs must hold a valid Athena SWAN Bronze or Silver award (pre or post-May), or ECU’s gender equality charter mark award (granted in October 2014). The institution must also have signed up to the May 2015 Athena SWAN principles, and have no outstanding membership fees.
If a department applied using the pre-May 2015 Athena SWAN application forms, the award will be valid for three years.
All current Athena SWAN and GEM award holders are able to apply for a post-May 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.
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 post-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.
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.
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.
Please see the word count guidance page
We require that departments and institutions intending to submit inform us of this two months in advance of the deadline via a form that will be made available on the website. We will remind institutions to do this via the member's mailing 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.
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.
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.
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 eight 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.
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.
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.
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.
There is now a process for appeals and objections, further information can be found in the May 2015 guide to process.
If an award holder is unsuccessful in renewing their award, they are offered a grace period. This grace period extends from the date of the results letter until the assessment round that falls one year after the results communication, or until the end date of their award validity (whichever is later). Applicants can submit a revised application at any time during this period and their award remains valid throughout the grace period and assessment of the revised application.
Only one grace period is offered per award; if the applicant submits a revised application and is again unsuccessful, their award may be removed or lowered.
If an extension has previously been made to the award validity for another reason, the grace period following an unsuccessful renewal may be shortened or unavailable.
Example 1: A university receives their bronze award in the April 2017 round, which is valid until April 2021. The university applies for a renewal of their bronze award in April 2021 and are notified of their unsuccessful result in September 2021. They are offered a grace period of one year and must resubmit in or before the November 2022 assessment round.
Example 2: A department receives their bronze award in November 2016, which is valid until November 2020. The department applies for an early renewal of their bronze award in November 2019 and are notified of their unsuccessful result in April 2020. They are offered a grace period of one year and must resubmit in or before the April 2021 assessment round.
Example 3: A university receives their bronze award in April 2017, which is valid until April 2021. The university applies for an early renewal of their bronze award in April 2019 and are notified of their unsuccessful result in September 2019. Their original award remains valid until April 2021, by which time they must reapply. No additional grace period is offered.
Departmental awards during University-level grace period
Throughout the grace period following an unsuccessful renewal of a university-level award, departments from that university may continue to apply for awards. Any awards conferred during the university’s grace period will remain valid for the standard validity period.
Applicants should note that a university-level award is an eligibility requirement for departmental submissions. If a university no longer holds an award, no new departmental submissions can be accepted.
If a university-level application is unsuccessful, resulting in the university-level award being removed, awards cannot be conferred to departments whose applications were submitted in the same assessment round. Any award-holding departments submitting in the same round as the unsuccessful university-level application will be offered a grace period on their current award.
Example 1: A university is unsuccessful, resulting in their award being removed. A department applies in the same round for their first bronze award and is found to meet the criteria. The bronze departmental award cannot be conferred.
Example 2: A university is unsuccessful, resulting in their award being removed. A bronze award-holding department applies in the same round to upgrade to a silver award and is found to meet the criteria. A new silver award cannot be conferred, but the department is offered a grace period to their current bronze award.
Example 3: A university is unsuccessful, resulting in their award being removed. A bronze award-holding department applies in the same round to renew their bronze award and is found to not meet the criteria. They are offered a grace period to their current bronze award.
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.
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.
To ensure the robustness and the consistency of the review panels, ECU train 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 the Your equality networks section of the website.
Applicants should be aware that all the information considered necessary for an award case must be included in the submission. Panellists cannot be expected to look at additional sources of information in order to undertake their review. Therefore, for consistency and fairness, panellists are specifically instructed not to visit websites that are mentioned in submissions. If you wish panellists to see the content of a web-page, a screenshot may be used. However, application word counts include legible words in screenshots, so you may wish to blur or block certain parts of such images, as this is unlikely to be an economic use of the available word count.
ECU understands that applicants see value in the inclusion of web-links, particularly in shared or published versions of submissions. Therefore, including URLs is not forbidden.
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.
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.
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:
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.
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:
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:
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.
We have a range of guidance on the using data and evidence and working with data pages of our website including guidance and tools to help you gather and analyse equality data, and deal with small numbers.
As including trans student and staff experiences is relatively new to the Athena SWAN process, we are still developing examples of good practice and will share this as it emerges. However, ECU advises institutions provide staff with an other option in addition to male and female or man and women to ensure people who are non-binary have an appropriate category to select. Institutions can include an option to specify and in consultation with staff and students they may decide to add non binary as a category alongside the option of ‘other’.
People who are trans are likely to identify as male or female so asking a question on sex or gender identity alone will not enable institutions to monitor the experiences of their trans staff and students. An institution may opt for qualitative rather than quantitative methods where it cannot guarantee confidentiality. ECU’s 2016 guidance ‘Improving the experiences of trans staff and students’ has a detailed terminology section and outlines questions that institutions may wish to ask including whether the question ‘do you identify as trans or have a trans history.
For applicants, benchmarking data can be used as a helpful tool to provide context and comparison; or as a ‘sense check’ in relation to disciplines and institutions within the broader higher education and research sector; and to highlight where there may be good practice and to inform actions. You should consider, how your gender representation compares to different national benchmarks, and how these relate to your own discipline focus, and what this could mean in terms of setting targets and aspirations.
The benchmark data should then be discussed in the context of your institutions/department as part of a robust analysis to help inform activities. Good benchmarking will help you to identify strong departments or institutions relevant to your own discipline or context, and to inform your approach to addressing your own challenges.
Data used to benchmark should be the most recently available data. Be mindful of the sources you are considering and ensure that they are appropriate for your department and/or institution. Make sure it is clear throughout the application which sources have been used, for example, the Higher Education Statistics Agency, and the timeframe this data refers to.
Internal benchmarking is also an important consideration, particularly for developing your action plan. For example, where a success measure is to increase on a current metric, an indication of both the current situation and targeted outcome should be included.
Appropriate benchmarking provides panellists with an indication of applicant’s understanding of the relative scale of the issues they are facing as well as an indication of their ambitions. However, panels may not look favourably on success measures based on simply matching the identified benchmark; benchmarking data should be used as a comparison, but not a target.
Benchmarking data can be utilised throughout the application. For example, when looking at recruitment, you can seek to benchmark the proportion of applications against the expected poll of applicants. Through this, you may more readily identify whether your recruitment outcomes are supporting your gender equality ambitions, and whether your targets are appropriate.
There are many sources of data that you may find useful for benchmarking, for example: ECU statistics reports; HESA data obtained via Heidi Plus (see guidance on ECU’s website); professional bodies and learned societies; mission groups, direct approach to other institutions; local government; and industries that align with your specialism.
Be mindful of considering how appropriate data sources are to the context of your department or institution. If benchmarking against a different sector, comment as to why this benchmark was used, as it will assist panellists.
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.
What is ECU’s definition of professional and support staff (PSS) and 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. Professional and support staff (PSS) are any staff members not included in this definition.
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.
How do we include professional and support staff (PSS) in Departmental submissions if our staff are centralised/ consolidated or Faculty managed?
The post-May 2015 Athena SWAN process requires departments to reflect on the experience of those staff who, for their day-to-day work, are based in the Department and/or College/ Faculty. This is because these staff will be exposed to, and are active part of, the departmental culture.
Departmental submissions should include PSS that are based in, assigned to, or embedded within the Department or College/ Faculty, regardless of where these staff are line managed. ECU recognises that in many instances this will not be clear cut, and data will be difficult to disaggregate, however efforts should be made to do this wherever possible. It is crucial to a thorough self-assessment to capture the cultural considerations and experiences of all staff that work within the Department and work towards ensuring that career opportunities, progression, flexible working and career breaks are considered for everyone, whether they are line managed externally to the Department or not. Where data are requested, departments can supplement the data relating to departmentally line managed staff with data for the Faculty as a whole.
Table 1 – showing staff numbers in the Department
|Academic staff||Departmental PSS (technicians)||Faculty managed PSS||Consolidated PSS members assigned to the Faculty|
|54.5 FTE (30 FTE female)||8.5 FTE (2.5 FTE female)||6.75 FTE (4.75 FTE female)||11 FTE (7 FTE female)|
Table 1 shows the staff member numbers within the Department. Faculty managed staff and consolidated staff assigned to the Faculty work across the five Departments that make up the Faculty. The only PSS members line managed within the Department itself are technicians, all other PSS are managed within the Faculty or within central departments within the University such as Student Support, Marketing and Admissions.
Where should professional and support staff be included in the application?
Professional and support staff (PSS) should be considered throughout the Athena SWAN process. For example, PSS should be represented on your SAT team and the action plan should include actions relating to PSS, however there are explicit requirements for PSS data and analysis in the sections detailed below. Please refer to the handbook and relevant application form for more information. Pages 33-34 of the Awards Handbook gives an overview of requirements.
All the bronze requirements with the addition of:
All the bronze requirements with the addition of:
Intersectionality means recognising that people’s identities and social positions are shaped by several factors, which create unique experiences and perspectives. These factors include, among others: sexuality, gender, race, disability, age, and religion.
Institutions should consider the intersection of gender and ethnicity. Consideration of intersectionality is only required in institutional applications, though departments are also encouraged to adopt this approach. Please see the intersectionality page for more information, including application guidance.
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.
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.
Please see the Gold application guidance page
Action plans associated with pre-May awards should not be included in any post-May Athena SWAN applications. From the November 2018 round, pre-May action plans will not be considered by the panel if they are included.
Since the post-May process was launched, some applicants have expressed a preference to include a previous action plan and progress log, particularly when seeking to further strengthen a case for a Silver or Gold award.
Feedback from applicants and panellists has identified differences of opinion about the value and fairness of allowing this practice, and the need for a clear policy.
To ensure consistency and prevent discussion of relative advantage or disadvantage, ECU has decided that previous action plans should not be included. For Silver and Gold awards, the impact of previous actions and beacons activities must, therefore, be shown in the main body of the application.
This also applies to Research Institutes and institutions in Ireland, who use the terms ‘original’ for pre-May, and ‘expanded’ for post-May.
Please see the Join ECU’s Athena SWAN Charter page
Find out about becoming a charter mark panellist here
Find out about observing an Athena SWAN panel here
If you hold Project Juno Champion status from the most recent awards round, you can convert this into an Athena SWAN Silver award by submitting your Juno documentation (application and IOP feedback) to us, along with a completed Post-May 2015 Juno Champion Application form covering additional questions relating to our expanded criteria.
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.