School of Mathematical and Physical Sciences

Athena Swan

The School of Mathematical and Physical Sciences at the University of Sussex is strongly committed to promoting and cultivating an inclusive and equal culture. We recognise the invaluable contributions, diverse perspectives and experiences, from all members of staff and students to the success of our Departments, the School and the University regardless of personal background. Only by fostering an inclusive environment which promotes equality, values diversity and maintains a working, learning and social environment in which the rights and dignity of all its staff and students are respected can we succeed

What is Athena SWAN?

The Athena SWAN Charter recognises commitment to advancing women's careers in science, technology, engineering, maths and medicine (STEMM) employment in academia. The Charter was launched in June 2005. Any higher education institution which is committed to the advancement and promotion of the careers of women in STEMM in higher education and research can apply for membership.The charter has now been expanded to recognise work undertaken to address gender equality more broadly, and not just barriers to progression that affect women.  To that end, any references to gender are to be taken as inclusive of all gender identities including, for example, non-binary, fluid and trans identities.

The beliefs underpinning the Charter are:

  • The advancement of science, technology, engineering, maths and medicine is fundamental to quality of life across the globe
  • It is vitally important that women are adequately represented in what has traditionally been, and is still, a male-dominated area
  • Science cannot reach its full potential unless it can benefit from the talents of the whole population, and until women and men can benefit equally from the opportunities it affords
  • For more information, please visit:
In 2014 the Department of Physics and Astronomy was awarded the Bronze Award followed by the Department of Mathematics in 2016. Both Departments held a Bronze award ever since. Since 2019 the School of Mathematical and Physical Sciences hold an overarching Athena SWAN Bronze award.
Statement of support from the Head of School

I am delighted to write in support of the School of Mathematical and Physical Sciences application to renew our bronze award. Equality, diversity, and inclusion are important to me personally as well as to the culture and processes of MPS and I believe that most people can flourish in MPS, regardless of their background, including their sex and gender identity. Brighton is a famously liberal city, and the University of Sussex has five core values: kindness, integrity, inclusion, collaboration, and courage. Hence, our support for EDI values fits naturally into our local city and university communities.

We in MPS are well aware of the gender imbalance within our student and academic staff communities and take active measures to mitigate this as far as possible. Although such an imbalance is common in STEM subjects, we strive to reduce it and do not accept that this should be the status quo. We have had limited opportunities to hire new academic faculty since the last application and hence the gender balance in this group has not changed significantly. However, change is possible, and I am proud to have contributed in my own way. In August 2021 I was appointed the first female Head of the Mathematics department and in November 2022 became the first female Head of MPS, albeit on an interim basis so far.

I am not formally part of the Athena Swan SAT, for which the team is requested to reflect the school demographics but became somewhat skewed towards women based on those who wanted to take part. However, I always take part in the Athena Swan/EDI meetings and have regular 1-2-1 meetings with the Athena Swan chair Chris Byrnes, who is also the director of EDI. Furthermore, both Heads of Departments are members of the SAT and I hold weekly meetings with both, in which I raise EDI issues regularly. I also support EDI work by allocating an annual budget to any relevant activities, which can for example pay for staff or students to attend EDI events. MPS is a member of the South East Physics Network and they host several EDI focused events per year.

I have taken active steps to promote the Culture Survey and am pleased to see that in most areas the majority of the MPS community are supportive and happy with the sorts of measures we are taking. For example, we have installed a small fridge which is only used for breast milk in the staff room, we have joined the period dignity project, and we are always supportive of requests for flexible working, which are especially important for those with caring responsibilities. We run an annual promotions workshop with HoS support, and in the current round the promotions committee was almost exactly gender balanced. It’s notable that a much larger fraction of academic staff has reached professorship than would be expected in other groups at this university. When judging applications for promotion or the discretionary pay review, we take into account not only performance but also the five Sussex core value, by judging people’s behaviours as well as their outcomes. We also pay special attention to anyone with exceptional circumstances, which based on the current round is disproportionately likely to be the case with women (e.g., due to caring responsibilities).

I believe that our support for the Athena Swan award fits naturally into the values of MPS and that it will help us act towards our goal of embracing diversity in all its forms. I am pleased that the SAT contains members from all areas of MPS, including PhD and undergraduate students, HR, professional and technical service staff, and a broad range of academic faculty.

In reading this application, I trust you will understand that we are generally a friendly school embracing progressive values making real efforts to recognise specific issues within MPS and coming up with concrete steps to solve them. The Athena Swan SAT have my full support and I will do my best to help them reach their goals.

Yours faithfully,

Professor Vanessa Styles

Head of School Mathematical and Physical Sciences

University of Sussex

Commitment to the UK Athena Swan Principles

Commitment to the UK Athena Swan principles letter [PDF 88.68KB]

Our current Bronze application including the Action Plan

Application for Bronze 2023

LMS Good Practise Scheme

The London Mathematical Society(LMS) is the UK's learned society for mathematics. Its purpose is the advancement, dissemination and promotion of mathematical knowledge, both nationally and internationally.

In February 2013, the LMS launched Advancing Women in Mathematics: Good Practise in UK University Departments. The Society's Women in Mathematics Committee has developed a Good Practice Scheme with the aim of supporting mathematics departments to embed equal opportunities for women within their working practices.

The Department of Mathematics is proud to be recognised as a Supporter of the Good Practice Scheme.

To become a supporter, a department should be committed to supporting the scheme and the five principles of good practice:

Principle 1 - A robust organisational framework to deliver equality of opportunity and reward.

Principle 2 - Appointment, promotion and selection processes and procedures that encourage men and women to apply for academic posts at all levels.

Principle 3 - Departmental structures and systems that enable men and women to progress and continue in their careers.

Principle 4 - Departmental organisation, structure, management arrangements and culture that are open, inclusive and transparent and encourage the participation of all staff.

Principle 5 - Flexible approaches and provisions that encompass the working day, the working year and a working life and enable individuals at all career and life stages, to maximise their contribution to mathematics, their department and institution.

Our Family-Friendly Policies and Practices

Within our Department, we aim to be in the vanguard with regard to policies and practices that support the diverse needs of our staff and students.  As examples, we have implemented the following:

  • A completely open and transparent workload allocation model that accounts in detail for time spent on the many tasks undertaken by our academics, sharing burdens fairly and allowing junior faculty to take on significant responsibilities.
  • A policy of reduction of duties for returners from maternity leave, to 60% of the normal workload during the first semester
  • Internally arranged meetings to take place, as far as possible, within family-friendly hours of 10 am to 4 pm, with all staff (including minute-takers) explicitly permitted to leave at the end of the scheduled time
  • Appointment of Equality and Diversity Champions, with whom concerned staff members may discuss in confidence without having to pass via their Line Managers
  • Explicit encouragement for all research and teaching staff to discuss their career progression within their annual Appraisal, rather than using Appraisal merely as a performance-management tool.
Funding for Women Scientists

Women in Science Fellowships --- enable female scientists to facilitate world-class research and develop their careers 

Daphne Jackson Trust --- returning researchers to their careers following a career break

Funds for Women Graduates --- promotes higher education and further learning for women graduates

The Bell Burnell Graduate Scholarship Fund - PhD Physics Studentships for women graduates

Networks for Women Researchers

LMS Women in Mathematics

European Women in Mathematics



Equality and Diversity at the University of Sussex
Equality and Diversity networks and support across the University of Sussex

Equality and Diversity Champion
Dr Cassandra Churchwell - Senior Technical Manager and Equality and Diversity Champion for the School of Mathematical and Physical Sciences

Dignity and Respect Champion

Helen Ticktin-Smith - Senior Quantum Research Project Officer and Dignity and Respect Champion for the School of Mathematical and Physical Sciences

Dignity and Respect networks and support across the University of Sussex

UK Equality and Diversity Law

The 2010 Equality Act is the most significant piece of equality legislation in the UK for many years. It simplifies, streamlines and strengthens the law. It gives individuals greater protection from unfair discrimination and makes it easier for employers and companies to understand their responsibilities. It also sets a new standard for those who provide public services to treat everyone with dignity and respect.    

Equality act 2010

Equality act guidance, from the Government Equalities Office

Equality act guidance and codes of practice from the Equality and Human Rights Commission

Other Resources

There are many respurces about Diversity and Equality available online. Here are a few links to relevant web pages:

IOP: http://www.

Royal Society:

Women in Engineering:


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