Universities rise to the gender equality challenge

Minister for Education Jan O Sullivan TD
Feb 10 2015 Posted: 09:52 GMT
Extension of the Athena SWAN Charter for women in science to the higher education sector in Ireland

The Irish universities are working to address gender imbalances in the higher education sector through the extension of the Athena SWAN Charter to Ireland, officially launched today by Minister for Education and Skills, Jan O'Sullivan. Irish Universities Association (IUA) Chief Executive, Ned Costello said: "tackling gender equality needs to be actively pursued and the Athena Swan Charter and Awards are a real force for positive change."

During 2015, the UK-based Equality Challenge Unit (ECU) announced that they would, for the first time, make access to their awards system possible outside of the UK by allowing Irish higher education institutions to sign up to the Athena SWAN Charter for women in science from Autumn 2014. Signing the Charter is the first step towards applying for Athena SWAN Awards, which recognise and celebrate good practice in recruiting, retaining and promoting women in STEMM (science, technology, engineering, mathematics and medicine) in higher education. The first Award applications from Ireland are due by the end of April next, and the universities are currently preparing their submissions.

The Irish universities, working with colleagues from across the higher education sector, have played a strong role in facilitating this extension of the Charter and the associated Athena SWAN Awards to Ireland. Applications are rigorously reviewed prior to an award being made, and progress is closely monitored afterwards. Securing an award under the Charter involves the development of an institution-wide Action Plan to improve gender equality and diversity, and putting in place appropriate structures to rigorously monitor progress of the Plan's implementation. The Plan itself must be specific to issues faced by the institution. Experience has shown that active engagement and significant "buy-in" from academic staff and senior management is critical to a Plan's successful implementation.

A 2013 external evaluation identified the significant impact of Athena SWAN on organisational structure and culture change in the UK higher education system. The ECU has recently announced the expansion of the Athena SWAN charter to include arts, humanities, social science, business and law departments alongside the current science, technology, engineering, mathematics and medicine disciplines, a development which is welcomed by the universities.

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