School’s support for women scientists recognised in award first

The School of Life Sciences has received the University’s first ever Athena SWAN silver award in recognition of its work to support the careers of female scientists within in higher education and research.

Professor Louise SerpellProfessor Louise SerpellAthena SWAN silver award logo

The award has been conferred under the Equality Challenge Unit’s Athena SWAN charter, which since 2005 has recognised institutions which try to address gender inequalities, tackle the unequal representation of women in science and improve career progression for female academics.

The award is the result of a huge effort by the School, led by Chair of Athena SWAN for Life Sciences, Professor Louise Serpell, who is also the Co-Director of the University of Sussex’s Dementia Research Group.

Professor Serpell, a Professor of Biochemistry at Sussex, said: 

"We’re really delighted at the success of our Silver application which recognises the efforts of Life Sciences in celebrating successful women in science. We are excited at the prospects for new challenges and expanding our support for early career researchers.

"In the coming year, the Life Sciences Athena SWAN self-assessment team will be working on aspects of highlighting unconscious bias, tackling bullying and harassment and working towards the University's intent for a transparent workload model within Schools. I am also very keen to promote further University-level support for Athena SWAN, which is key to the continuing success of the University in the sector.”

Professor Jonathan Bacon, Head of the School of Life Sciences, said: "This is excellent news. Our continued success in working toward the Athena SWAN goals is doing much to improve the working environment in the School.”

Read a profile of Professor Serpell written for International Women's Day

To mark International Women’s Day (8 March 2016), Professor Serpell recently organised a well-attended panel discussion and debate asking ‘Do we need Athena SWAN?

The panel – comprised of Dr Erika Mancini, Dr Ruth Murrell-Lagnado, Professor Martin Gosling, Professor Michelle West, and chaired by Dr Tamsin Hinton-Smith – pointed out that measures such as good childcare support and assistance with career re-entry were required to encourage more female professors in science.

Practical help such as funding for staff cover during maternity leave or rooms for young children during key meetings was also thought important in creating a supportive environment.

The panel concluded that Athena SWAN should not be a box-ticking exercise but something that facilitates real change. The School’s Silver award will be presented at a ceremony at the University of Sheffield on 30 June.

The accreditation will be valid until April 2019 when the school will be required to reapply for Silver award or attempt to attain a Gold award.

The University of Sussex this week applied for renewal of its Athena SWAN institutional Bronze award, which it first attained in April 2013.