Athena SWAN is a national network created by the Equality Challenge Unit in 2005 to encourage and recognise commitment to address gender equality in higher education and research.

The Athena Project

The Athena Project was a national Science, Technology, Engineering, Maths and Medicine (STEMM) diversity project, which ran from 1999 to 2007.

The project was set up by women in the academic science community, for women in the academic science community. It was led by research active scientists and engineers and this reflected the focus of the project - women's career progression in science.

The Athena SWAN charter was created for so that organisations could demonstrate their desire for change and commitment to adopting principles for change within their policies, practices, action plans and culture. The Athena SWAN Charter originally evolved from work between the Athena Project and the Scientific Women’s Academic Network (SWAN). With the support of Equality Challenge Unit (ECU) and the UKRC, the Charter was officially launched at the Institute of Physics on 22 June 2005, with the first awards conferred in 2006.

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.

Institutions or "departments" may apply for awards available at Bronze, Silver and Gold levels. The application process typically takes over a year to complete and awards are available biannually. These awards represent the effort made by an institution or "department" to further advance gender equality, representation, progression and success for all.

Award Types

University Award Levels

Award TypeDescription
Bronze Recognises that the university has a solid foundation for eliminating gender bias and developing an inclusive culture that values all staff.
Silver Recognise a significant record of activity and achievement by the institution in promoting gender equality and in addressing challenges in different disciplines.
Gold Recognises a significant and sustained record of activity and achievement by the institution in addressing challenges across the full range of the institution and promoting gender equality within and beyond the institution.

Departmental Award Levels

Once a university or institution has attained a bronze award, departments within that institution are eligible to apply for their own Athena SWAN award. The various award levels available are explained below:

Award TypeDescription
Bronze Recognises that in addition to institution-wide policies the department has identified particular challenges and is planning activities to address these in the future.
Silver Recognises that in addition to institution-wide policies the department has a significant record of activity and achievement and has identified particular challenges, has implemented activities and can demonstrate their impact so far.
Gold Gold recognises a significant and sustained progression and achievement in promoting gender equality and addressing the challenges particular to the specific STEMM discipline of the department.

Why Do We Need Athena SWAN?

The Petrie Multiplier Effect

Karen Petrie multiplier effect graphic

Karen Petrie multiplier effect graphic

Dr Karen Petrie, Senior Lecturer in the School of Computing has developed a simple model to explain how underrepresented populations are more likely to experience inappropriate behaviour.

For example, if the percentage of men and women in a population who make questionable remarks to the other sex is equal and the percentage of women in the population is lower than the percentage of men, then the average woman experiences far more sexist comments than the average man.

So, if there are three times as many men as women, the average woman receives nine times more insults than the average man, even though men and women are equally sexist.