Athena SWAN and Gender Equality at KCL

A report from Dr Alana Harris, Lecturer in Modern British History, on KCL History Department’s determination to make vital strides towards gender equality in higher education.

On 3 February 2015, timed to coincide with International Women’s Day, the Royal Historical Society issued a report on Gender Equality and Historians in Higher Education. Based on over 700 responses from women and men within the profession, and across career stages, it included a forward by Dame Jinty Nelson (Professor Emeritus of this department) who described it as an ‘urgent summons to greater institutional engagement’.


Since that time, a number of universities and networks of academics have taken up that challenge, with one of the most recent initiatives a sold-out workshop at St Hilda’s College in Oxford and subsequent plans to establish a women historians’ network and series of public engagement activities.


Meanwhile, since September 2015, staff in the Department of History have been working towards an Athena SWAN bronze award, which recognizes commitment to achieving gender equality. Applying for the award is a thorough and in-depth process. It has required us to analyse the intake, progression and achievements of our staff and students; to think about the gendered nature of our organization and culture; to assess the support we provide to women at all stages in their academic careers; and to identify ways of addressing the inequalities that exist.


This work has been performed by 15 members of the Department’s Self-Assessment Team, lead initially by Professor Abigail Woods (now Head of Department) and subsequently by myself. Ranging from PhD students to professor emeritus, we have all brought diverse experiences of life within and outside work to our discussions. We have addressed matters ranging from the content of the history curriculum (now informing review of the first year syllabus), to the sharing of staff offices, and the ways in which we support, train and listen to both staff and students.


As the first department within the Faculty of Arts and Humanities at King’s (and amongst only a handful of history departments in Britain) to pursue an Athena SWAN award, we are justly proud of what we have achieved. At the same time, we are well aware of the work still to be done in order to fulfill our ambition of making the department a place in which everyone feels valued and able to achieve their full potential. In the wake of Brexit and the recent American election, this commitment to gender equality, diversity and inclusion feels even more important publically to affirm.


We have now submitted our application, which includes a forty page ‘action plan’ of new initiatives, reform agendas and the transformation of structures and cultures within the department. We will continue to share news about our initiatives, and opportunities for the involvement of undergraduate and postgraduate students in the consultation and implementation processes. Looking forward, alongside the implementation and consolidation of the transformative agendas identified through our self-analysis, we will now extend our efforts to other intersectional issues in striving for greater diversity and inclusion.

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