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

The Value of Diversity & Inclusion in Research

Written by Sarah Guerra, Director of Diversity & Inclusion

At a research-intensive organisation such as King’s, it is important that ‘diversity’ and ‘inclusion’ do not remain in the hallways of HR. Research staff, although distinct in their roles, face many of the same diversity challenges on an operational level as other types of university staff, most perceptibly in the low levels of female or BME representation at more senior levels. This also extends to other challenges such as the persistence of low levels of disclosures around key protected characteristics such as disability and sexual orientation (and a further silence around why this might occur), the difficulties facing working parents as well as other structural issues such as unclear and informal reporting procedures around bullying and harassment.

In recent years there have been marked efforts to create a more inclusive working environment for all staff, including research staff. Mentoring schemes, such as the Diversity Mentoring Scheme at King’s have sought to provide female, trans and non-binary, BME mentees from often marginalised backgrounds an exceptional and unique opportunity to meet with a more experienced and trained mentor to identify, define and progress towards professional goals that will enhance their career progression, regardless of whether they want to stay in academia or pursue a career path beyond academia. Many mentees have spoken about how the experience has boosted their confidence and helped them identify and reach their professional goals.

King’s prides itself on being a leader and innovator in Higher Education diversity and inclusion by championing such schemes as the Diversity Mentoring Scheme, but there is always more that can be done. I feel that our challenge will be transforming good intentions and goodwill into positive, meaningful personal action in sufficient volume to create sustainable organisational change. On a practical level, this means looking over our behaviours, language, processes and systems with an analytical lens to confront some home truths, as discomforting as it might be. For example, understanding research staff demographics and recognising who is participating and succeeding, and more importantly, who is not, and then acting to change those dynamics in our research environments.

Our Diversity & Inclusion team is a hub of experience and expertise and is able to advise and support the King’s community to understand what it means to be equitable and inclusive as an employer and educator and how research staff can get involved in the various diversity networks and events at King’s. Six weeks into their roles, the team is busy tinkering away on our various programs such as the Athena SWAN and Race Equality Charter Marks, disability access at King’s, the Parental Leave Fund, the Carers’ Career Development Fund as well as our Diversity Mentoring Scheme, just to name a few!

To truly promote diversity and inclusion across research environments at King’s, we need to listen, learn, be honest, brave and bold, and I hope that I can provide the confidence and leadership we need to catalyse the change we are looking for.