Silver Athena SWAN award

Last week we at the School of Divinity heard that we had been successful in getting a Silver Athena SWAN award, in recognition of efforts we have been making towards creating an inclusive and supportive environment for staff and students of all genders. We previously held a Bronze award (since 2014), and we have been the pioneering department of Divinity/Theology/Religion – the first in the UK to get Bronze, and now the first in the UK to get Silver.

The award makes me personally very proud, because for four years (2014-2018) I was the School’s Equality and Diversity Director, and had the responsibility of overseeing our Athena SWAN and related work. I spent many many many hours of my life filling in the long and complex application form for the Silver award. The result makes all that work feel worthwhile, but more importantly it also recognises what I already knew from my own observations: the School’s culture has been changing, and for the better. We still have more to do, but we are going in the right direction.

As I reflect back on the process, here are my top tips for what is needed for Athena SWAN success:

  1. The broadest possible support. Ideally, include other areas of the E&D agenda too, and make sure the emphasis is on gender equality and not advancing women. You officially need an “Athena SWAN self-assessment team” but it doesn’t need to be called that, and in my view it’s better if it is called an E&D committee (as ours is), or People+ (as in the School of Social and Political Science) or something like that, to ensure everyone knows that everyone will benefit from the process. Transformations cannot happen without lots of people contributing.
  2. The highest possible support. Support from the people in power, and the people with access to resources, is essential. Here at Edinburgh there has been a big push towards Athena SWAN applications from the highest levels of management, and this filters down to communicate a clear priority area for work. This has helped greatly.
  3. Specialist support. I am in no way qualified to perform the statistical gathering or analysis necessary for the application, nor did I know what a SMART action plan is until I had to write one. Thankfully, the School had access to a specialist support person from HR, who guided me through everything a did a lot of data work herself. This was completely essential to our success.
  4. Time. Quite apart from the time spent overseeing committees and initiatives and changes to processes and so on, the time needed for filling in the application form was substantial. It took more time than I could possibly have imagined, and I think of myself as someone quite good at filling in forms! I honestly think I could have researched and written at least half a book in the time it took just to navigate the form itself. If you are overseeing an application, make sure you get sufficient time.
  5. Perspective. I found it really helpful to separate out – in my head – the application process itself from the changes to culture and processes underpinning the application. Clearly the latter is the real priority, and the real cause for celebration. Whenever the form was driving me mad (especially when trying to compress the word count!) I kept reminding myself of all the good things brought about by the external leverage of the Athena SWAN process. In a professional environment now dominated by market forces and commercialisation, it is so valuable to have a lever for change that makes us create a more inclusive and supportive environment for all.

About naomiappleton

I work in the Divinity School at the University of Edinburgh, where I research and teach subjects related to South and Southeast Asian religions.
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