What is Athena SWAN?

Athena SWAN is a charter managed by the UK Equality Challenge Unit to recognise good practice in higher education aimed at advancing gender equality.  The charter includes Bronze, Silver, and Gold awards for which universities and their departments can apply. In 2017, the School of Humanities won a Bronze award, committing it to an ambitious action plan for 2017-2021. 

Originally focused on academics in STEMM subjects, the charter was expanded in 2015 to include arts, humanities, and social sciences; staff in professional and support roles; trans staff and students; and a broader conception of gender equality.  The charter’s concerns include students’ progression into academia, gender representation among staff and students, staff careers, and the working environment.

Athena SWAN principles

The Athena SWAN Charter is based on ten key principles. By being part of Athena SWAN, institutions are committing to a progressive charter; adopting these principles within their policies, practices, action plans and culture.

  1. We acknowledge that academia cannot reach its full potential unless it can benefit from the talents of all.
  2. We commit to advancing gender equality in academia, in particular, addressing the loss of women across the career pipeline and the absence of women from senior academic, professional and support roles.
  3. We commit to addressing unequal gender representation across academic disciplines and professional and support functions. In this we recognise disciplinary differences including:
    • the relative underrepresentation of women in senior roles in arts, humanities, social sciences, business and law (AHSSBL)
    • the particularly high loss rate of women in science, technology, engineering, mathematics and medicine (STEMM)
  4. We commit to tackling the gender pay gap.
  5. We commit to removing the obstacles faced by women, in particular, at major points of career development and progression including the transition from PhD into a sustainable academic career.
  6. We commit to addressing the negative consequences of using short-term contracts for the retention and progression of staff in academia, particularly women.
  7. We commit to tackling the discriminatory treatment often experienced by trans people.
  8. We acknowledge that advancing gender equality demands commitment and action from all levels of the organisation and in particular active leadership from those in senior roles.
  9. We commit to making and mainstreaming sustainable structural and cultural changes to advance gender equality, recognising that initiatives and actions that support individuals alone will not sufficiently advance equality.
  10. All individuals have identities shaped by several different factors. We commit to considering the intersection of gender and other factors wherever possible.

Athena Swan information


Athena SWAN awards, and the application process involved, help Schools and Research Institutes improve the recruitment, retention and promotion of female academics. The awards therefore play a significant role in helping Schools and Research Institutes carry out research at the highest standards of international excellence and maintain a competitive advantage. The process of reviewing and establishing good working practices around induction, staff development, training and flexible working as part of an Athena SWAN submission benefits the whole workforce.

In some research areas, future funding is likely to be tied to an institutions commitment to Athena SWAN. Currently, the Research Councils UK expect those in receipt of RCUK funding to provide evidence of commitment to equality and diversity, and participation in Athena SWAN is mentioned as one piece of such evidence.

Athena SWAN charter

Recognising advancement of gender equality: representation, progression and success for all.

ECU’s Athena SWAN Charter was established in 2005 to encourage and recognise commitment to advancing the careers of women in science, technology, engineering, maths and medicine (STEMM) employment in higher education and research.

In May 2015 the charter was expanded to recognise work undertaken in arts, humanities, social sciences, business and law (AHSSBL), and in professional and support roles, and for trans staff and students. The charter now recognises work undertaken to address gender equality more broadly, and not just barriers to progression that affect women.

ECU’s Athena SWAN Charter covers women (and men where appropriate) in:

  • academic roles in STEMM and AHSSBL
  • professional and support staff
  • trans staff and students

In relation to their:

  • representation
  • progression of students into academia
  • journey through career milestones
  • working environment for all staff