Human Resources

Athena SWAN

What is Athena SWAN?

The Athena SWAN Charter evolved from work between the Athena Project and the Scientific Women’s Academic Network (SWAN), to advance the representation of women in science, technology, engineering, medicine and mathematics (STEMM) in higher education. The Charter was launched by the Equality Challenge Unit in 2005 and now over 130 universities and research institutes have signed up as members.

In May 2015 the charter was expanded to recognise work undertaken in arts, humanities, social sciences, business and law (AHSSBL), and in professional and support roles, and for trans staff and students. The charter now recognises work undertaken to address gender equality more broadly, and not just barriers to progression that affect women.

The Athena SWAN Charter is based on ten key principles.

Athena SWAN awards

Athena SWAN Charter members can apply for bronze, silver and gold awards that demonstrate their commitment to the development, advancement and promotion of gender equality.

The awards are grouped into two categories:

  • Institutional awards – these awards are made to institutions in recognition of their commitment to promoting gender equality.
  • Departmental awards – these awards are made to individual Schools or departments who have identified particular challenges in relation to gender equality and have developed an action plan for addressing these.

In order to apply for a departmental award, the institution has to hold a valid bronze or silver award.

There are two submission dates per year for applications for awards – the last working days in April and November.

Athena SWAN at the University of Sussex

Logo for Athena SWAN Bronze AwardThe University of Sussex holds a bronze University award (submitted in November 2012 and awarded in April 2013).  This award is valid for three years from the announcement of the award, and the University submitted an application to renew its bronze institutional award in the April 2016 submission round.  

Icon to indicated PDF file download Read the University of Sussex Athena SWAN Bronze Award application

Icon to indicated PDF file download Read the Athena SWAN award submission feedback

Examples of initiatives that have been undertaken as part of the University’s Athena SWAN agenda include:

  • A revision to the academic promotion procedure to allow individuals to declare personal circumstances, for example, periods of maternity leave, and for these to be taken into account by promotion panels
  • An annual review of all staff in STEMM Schools employed on fixed-term contracts to assess whether the University can offer them a transfer to an indefinite contract
  • New staff development sessions on unconscious bias
  • A communications masterclass for women in STEMM
  • Workshops on the academic promotions procedure
  • The development of an Athena SWAN website
  • A mentoring circles scheme for female post-doctoral staff in STEMM disciplines
  • Focus groups with women who have recently returned from maternity leave
  • The creation of four Daphne Jackson fellowships for female scientists who have taken a career break
  • High profile communication of successful women in STEMM

In addition to the University’s institutional bronze award, the following Schools have achieved bronze department-level awards:

Physics Department (April 2014)

School of Law, Politics and Sociology (April 2014)

BSMS (November 2014)

School of Engineering and Informatics (November 2014)

The School of Life Sciences is the first School at Sussex to receive a departmental silver award (November 2015)


 Photo of Professor Clare Mackie“I am delighted to hold the role of Chair of the University’s Athena SWAN Institutional Self-Assessment team, and am very pleased that the University achieved a Bronze award in April 2013, and applied to renew this in April 2016. This has resulted in a significant commitment by individual STEMM Schools and departments to work towards achieving departmental awards, and I was very pleased to see this recognised in the form of departmental bronze awards for Lifesciences, Physics, BSMS, Engineering and Informatics, and Law, Politics and Sociology. Life Sciences have since gone on to achieve a silver award which marks a significant commitment by the School to gender equality. The work undertaken at both the institutional level and the more local School/Departmental level has helped to identify the issues that we need to address in relation to gender equality, for example, mentoring for women in STEMM; improved promotion procedures; support before, during and on return from maternity leave; and initiatives to support women in gaining their first substantive academic position from which they can further advance their careers. The development of comprehensive action plans at both institutional and School/departmental levels is helping to address these issues, and we are already starting to see the positive impact of Athena SWAN on the career development of women at Sussex. I look forward to applications for further awards from our STEMM Schools and very much hope that this will encourage applications from our arts, humanities, social sciences, business and law (AHSSBL) areas.”

Professor Clare Mackie, Deputy Vice Chancellor

For more information, or if you have any queries, please contact Jackie Rymell on 01273 873720