What is Athena SWAN

The Athena SWAN Charter is a scheme that recognises excellence in employment practices that advance and promote the careers of women in STEMM subjects (science, technology, engineering, maths, medicine) in higher education and research through an award scheme. The Athena SWAN – charter for women in science – is now administered from the Equality Challenge Unit (ECU)

The University of Edinburgh is a member of the Charter and holds a bronze institutional award. The institution has to be a member in order for individual units to hold awards. For more information on Athena SWAN at the University of Edinburgh, please visit the university’s Innovation and Development website.


There are 3 levels of award:

  • BRONZE: assessment of data (quantitative – e.g. gender distribution across staff grades; qualitative – e.g. policies, working arrangements), identification of where the problems are and a plan of action to address these problems
  • SILVER: similar to bronze, but data showing the impact of policies already in place has to be included
  • GOLD: sustained excellence


Why is it important? 

Promoting equality and diversity (“tapping into all our talents”)

  • In Clinical Sciences (CS), in the clinical grades, women represent half of all clinical researchers but only 2 of a total of 35 professors are women; amongst non-clinical grades, women outnumber men by 2:1 at UE7, but men outnumber women by more than 3:1 at UE10
  • In Molecular, Genetic and Population Health Sciences (MGPHS), there is a similar distribution at the lower grades; at higher grades the story is slightly better than in CS but again only 3 out of 20 clinical professors and 6 out of 22 non-clinical professors are female
  • A number of funding bodies are now requiring an Athena SWAN silver award as a condition for application


What is involved?

  • A self-assessment team, representative of all grades and experiences, convened by Prof Karen Chapman and Prof Cathy Abbott
  • Data collection – to identify the problem areas and assess progress
  • A plan of action – for bronze, we have to identify where problems are and have a plan of action to address these

We focus on 4 main areas:

  • organisational culture
  • promotions
  • support
  • work-life balance


Where are we now?

  • CS and MGPHS decided to go forward as a single unit representing the University of Edinburgh Medical School
  • The self-assessment team includes people representative of all grades and experiences from both MGPHS and CS. You can see who these people are here. Prof Moira Whytte (Sheffield) is our external advisor
  • We have collected data for the Medical School with help from Caroline Wallace, who was appointed by College of Science and Engineering to assist with the school’s application
  • A survey of all staff and postgraduate students in our Schools was carried out in December 2012 and staff/students were encouraged to feed back to the self-assessment team. A summary of the results of this survey can be found here
  • The collected data together with the survey helped us to identify and formulate what some of the problems are within our schools
  • An application for a bronze award was submitted in November 2013

  • On the 1st of May 2014 we were awarded a Bronze Athena SWAN Award

  • We aim to apply for a Silver Award later in 2015, and as part of that process we conducted a second Gender Equality Survey in December 2014/January 2015. This helped us identify issues that require further attention as well as those where we have made some improvement.
  • We have formulated and continue to update our plan of action, to build on policies already in place and to put in place new mechanisms/policies, to address these problems