The Athena SWAN initiative was originally established in response to the under-representation of women in science, technology, engineering, maths and medicine (STEMM) careers. The Charter was expanded to additionally recognise work undertaken in arts, humanities, social sciences, business and law (AHSSBL), and in professional and support roles. Athena SWAN Awards recognise commitment to advancing women's careers in employment in higher education and research.

Athena SWAN initiatives are framed around removing barriers to developing careers and also bringing about gender equality. These initiatives are aimed at, but not exclusively applicable to, women.

History of Athena SWAN

The Charter is owned and managed by the Equality Challenge Unit (ECU). LSBU has already signed up as a member of the Athena SWAN Charter, and is looking towards applying for Charter awards.

Athena SWAN awards are subject to an in-depth self-assessment which is reviewed by a panel drawn from across higher education throughout the UK. Awards can be submitted for at institution and department level, graded as Bronze, Silver and Gold.

The Athena SWAN Charter demonstrates commitment to gender equality and excellent working practices. Inclusive employers are able to recruit from the widest possible pool while well-supported staff are more likely to choose stay with LSBU, regardless of their gender. We hope Athena SWAN will bring about a long term culture change that will benefit all staff.

Athena SWAN’s report Measuring Success outlines positive changes made and challenges faced by five longstanding members of the Athena SWAN Charter. Athena SWAN Charter Patron, Professor Dame Julia Higgins gives the following quote in the foreword:

“The findings of this research study clearly evidence the impact Athena SWAN has had, and continues to have, both at an institutional level and for individuals. Within universities and departments change is happening; organisational structures and practices are being improved, there is greater awareness around culture and gender equality and the importance of good communication is being highlighted. For individuals, Athena SWAN has been valuable in encouraging aspiration, identifying and exemplifying role models and illustrating potential academic career pathways and opportunities.”

Research funding

Research councils are increasingly recognising the value of equality and diversity in higher education. Some are taking proactive steps to ensure that funding recipients embed these principles and that grant winners apply equality and diversity principles in all aspects of research practice.

National Institute for Health Research

In 2011, the National Institute for Health Research (NIHR) stated: "For future competitions to designate and fund NIHR Biomedical Research Units, Biomedical Research Centres, and Patient Safety Translational Research Centres, it does not expect to short-list any NHS/University partnership where the academic partner (often the Medical School/Faculty of Medicine) has not achieved at least the Silver Award of the Athena SWAN Charter for Women in Science."

Research Councils UK

Research Councils UK (RCUK) is a strategic partnership of seven UK research councils: AHRC, BBSRC, EPSRC, ESRC,MRC, NERC and STFC. RCUK launched their Statement of Expectations for Equality and Diversity in January 2013.

RCUK does not require any formal accreditation for funding but does want to see evidence of action to address equality and diversity at a departmental level. RCUK recommends that Athena SWAN might form part of this evidence. See the RCUK press release for further information.

Athena SWAN Bronze

LSBU is currently working towards submitting an application for institutional Bronze Charter status in November 2016.The Bronze award recognises a solid foundation for eliminating gender bias and developing an inclusive culture that values all staff.

This includes:

  • an assessment of gender equality in the institution, including quantitative (staff data) and qualitative (policies, practices, systems and arrangements) evidence, and identifying both challenges and opportunities
  • a four-year plan that builds on this assessment, information on activities that are already in place and what has been learned from these
  • the development of an organisational structure, including a self-assessment team, to carry proposed actions forward

Self-assessment team

The Athena SWAN self-assessment team meets at least four times a year and will be working together to identify necessary actions over a four year period to improve gender equality at LSBU.


For further information, please contact the Senior Organisational Development and Equality, Diversity and Inclusion Manager, Laurence Gouldbourne.