Beyond Athena SWAN – A Faculty Perspective

Written by Sabina Khanom, IoPPN, Culture, Diversity and Inclusion Project Manager

Mention of the Athena SWAN Charter is likely to provoke an array of responses from university staff and students, which can range from subdued pride in the hard work of a Self-Assessment Team (SAT) that leads to awards (bronze, silver or gold), or a thinly veiled rolling of the eyes as in ‘oh not that again’. Despite the various individual opinions, Athena SWAN has undoubtedly become a renowned vehicle for change within universities in the UK.

Our Athena SWAN journey at the Institute of Psychiatry, Psychology & Neuroscience started in 2012 and as we looked at a number of different types of data from across the faculty, a pattern emerged of gender inequalities. For example, at the IoPPN around 65% of our postdocs were women, yet the numbers more than halved at professor level. Why was this? Initial arguments we faced were that women were ‘off having babies’ and ‘were less ambitious’ and when we raised the issue of implicit bias potentially playing a role we were told ‘scientists have no biases’. As we delved deeper, it was clear that biases and other systematic barriers meant that at a number of critical stages across academic careers, we were not retaining women.

Over the last five years our SAT, Postdoc Network and Research Innovation Committee have been addressing some of these issues in a number of ways:

  • Representation of research staff on departmental and IoPPN committees
  • Providing career development and support such as Junior THRIVE and proposal writing workshops
  • Better representation of women in decision making committees
  • Increasing awareness and access to HR policies (shared parental leave) and workplace flexibility
  • Rewarding and recognising the contribution research staff are making using initiatives such as Independent Researcher Awards and the Honorary Lecturer Scheme
  • Raising profile of role models through Inspiring Women portraits and Women in Mind interview series
  • Diversity and inclusion training on various topics such as Implicit Bias, Dealing with Microagressions (subtle bullying tactics), Intercultural Communications and Imposter Syndrome

Although the Athena SWAN charter previously focused on removing inequities women faced in STEMM careers, it has evolved to include broader gender identities and also to consider how gender intersects with other protected characteristics (intersectionality). Along with King’s Race Equality Charter and Stonewall award, we too have broadened our remit and are working on diversity and inclusion using an intersectional lens, which should benefit a broader range of people.

With the launch of King’s 2029 strategy, our work on creating a diverse and inclusive environment has become imperative.

What can you do? Here are four things we can all do:

  1. Understand our biases and learn how they manifest in the working environment
  2. Use inclusive language – who are we excluding?
  3. Get involved in some of our activities, give us feedback so we can improve
  4. Be an active bystander – speak up if you notice bias or discrimination

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