Athena SWAN Review summary

After a very long wait, the Athena SWAN review has been published. There is much to commend it and it has certainly been thorough. The recommendations are mostly very positive, but it remains to be seen what, if any, changes are made. Alison Johns, Chief Executive of Advance HE, said, “We fully support what the recommendations aim to achieve.” She went on to say, “The Steering Group’s work will form the basis of Advance HE’s transformation plan, co-created with our members and the sector, to ensure a smooth and successful transition from current systems and practice to ‘Athena SWAN 4.0’. We’re really looking forward to this work.”

So the recommendations may not be implemented or may be tweaked, but at least we know what they are. The headlines are:

1. The application process needs to be streamlined and the administrative burden reduced

  1. Specifically there is mention of reducing the volume of information required and Advance HE accessing directly data from the likes of UCAS, HESA, OfS, SFC, etc. rather than asking applicants to reproduce it
  2. An online application with a standardised approach, with the data above downloadable into the application form from Advance HE’s database
  3. Allow cognate departments to make a joint application

2. A need for consistency and transparency as there is currently very little confidence in these areas

3. More training and support for first time applicants

  1. And this support to be monitored

4. A broadening of the remit

  1. Professional services to be eligible for the award
  2. Reflect the full gender spectrum
  3. Allow analysis of intersectionality
  4. Change the name to Athena Swan (rather than SWAN, to indicate not just about STEMM)
  5. Create more relevance for Research Institutes and teaching-intensive institutions

5. Change the spirit of Athena Swan

  1. Support rather than criticise when assessing
  2. Move from judging impact to supporting progress

6. Assessor panels to change

  1. Assessor panels to be replaced by panels of experts in EDI
  2. Panels to have a gender balance; consist of five members, with at least three academics and someone at PVC level or equivalent as the Chair
  3. AHSSB-based applications to be assessed to have at least one expert from these disciplines [This doesn’t suggest that business school applications will have a business school expert, just someone from AHSSB]
  4. Panel decisions to be final, i.e. no going to a further Board to ratify or change

7. Concentration on culture

  1. Consider how impact is measured and understand that culture is more than just metrics
  2. Culture to feature more prominently in applications

8. The application

  1. Institutional awards to focus on institutional policy and practice
  2. Departmental awards to focus on
    1. Implementation of institutional policy [No mention of what happens if there is no formal institutional policy]
    2. Departmental policies
    3. Culture and Leadership
    4. Bronze, Silver and Gold to remain, and you must still start at the bottom and work your way up

c. Awards to be valid for up to five years
d. Action plans to focus on the issues the department wishes to address in the next five years
e. Renewals to focus on progress made against the action plan and the creation of a new action plan
f. Unsuccessful applicants to receive constructive feedback

9. Departmental self-assessment teams

  1. There be a requirement to demonstrate how those working on Athena Swan applications, implementation and monitoring are recognised for their work, e.g. through promotion
  2. Departments must have an SLT lead for EDI
  3. The self-assessment team gender balance must reflect the gender balance of the department

There is much here to be encouraged by, but it will depend what Advance HE does with the recommendations.

Ongoing concerns include: the constituency of the assessor panels and their level of expertise in the subject area; the necessity to start at Bronze level and work your way up which seems to continue to assume there is a problem everywhere; that this is still about the journey, not the result.

We will continue to monitor any progress towards making changes and feed in where we can. Any comments are always gratefully received.

Anne Kiem, Chief Executive, Chartered ABS