This blog post was written by James Lush, the Biochemical Society’s Policy Officer
The Athena SWAN Charter is rising in profile all the time, especially now that research funding is starting to be dependent on institutions possessing the associated awards. The Equality Challenge Unit, who administer the scheme, expect a considerable increase in applications for the next round of awards, which will be judged in early 2013.
Athena SWAN awards are awarded to universities or individual departments who demonstrate a commitment to embedding best practise regarding gender equality, with a focus on STEM subjects. To date, only two Gold applications (Silver and Bronze awards may also be applied for) have been successful – the Chemistry departments at the Universities of York and Edinburgh are invited to take a bow.
My experience of sitting on a judging panel in the previous round was very positive. There is a time commitment – I may have been slowed down by the fact that it was my first time – up to eight applications are discussed by each panel, and these fairly weighty documents must be read in advance in preparation for a day-long panel discussion session in London. In return, you get expenses paid, lunch (featuring sushi when I attended) and an invite to the awards ceremony. Crucially, however, you also get an insight into the practises of a variety of universities and departments – best practise to learn from and a closer look at the more dubiously received policies that some institutions have in place. For panellists based in universities, this can be a useful way of reflecting on their own institutions.
I have written fairly extensively on the subject of gender equality in science, both in this blog and in our members’ magazine, The Biochemist. But it is through respected and practical schemes such as the Athena SWAN Charter (which the Biochemical Society co-funds) that the difference is really made.
If you have an awareness of the issues facing women in STEM and are interested in becoming a panellist, please email firstname.lastname@example.org to sign up or ask for more details. Panellists are taken from a wide range of backgrounds and men are especially invited to step forward, as they are currently in the minority on judging panels.