Athena SWAN at Birkbeck

We actively promote the Athena SWAN initiative within the Birkbeck community.

About Athena SWAN

  • The 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 that is undertaken to address gender equality more broadly and not just barriers to progression that affect women.

Introduction to Athena SWAN

  • Athena SWAN is a charter to advance women's careers in all subjects. Its Bronze, Silver and Gold awards celebrate good practice in recruiting, retaining and promoting women within Higher Education.
  • The scheme is managed by the Equality Challenge Unit (ECU), and is funded by ECU, the Research Councils UK (RCUK), the Royal Society, the Biochemical Society and the Department of Health. The Charter evolved from work between the Athena Project and the Scientific Women's Academic Network (SWAN) and was launched in June 2005 at the Institute of Physics.
  • The membership has steadily grown since 2005, along with an increase in the scope of the Charter, resulting in an increased number of award holders.
  • Nationally, Athena SWAN activity significantly increased following the link between Athena SWAN awards and scientific research funding. In 2011, the Chief Medical Officer announced that the National Institute for Health Research would only expect to shortlist medical schools for biomedical research centre and unit funding if the school holds a Silver Athena SWAN award.
  • In January 2013, the Research Councils UK (RCUK) unveiled its new Statement of Expectations for Equality and Diversity, expecting those in receipt of Research Council funding to provide evidence of commitment to equality and diversity, with participation in Athena SWAN specifically mentioned as one piece of such evidence. It may be expected that other funders (such as the Royal Society and charities) will follow suit.
  • Inclusive practice is also an important consideration within the Research Excellence Framework (REF); the 2014 REF included a number of measures to enhance equality and diversity, which highlight a clear commitment to equality and diversity across the higher education sector.

College participation

  • The College is committed to the Athena SWAN Charter and to embedding principles of gender equality across the institution. Since securing its first Athena SWAN Bronze award in 2012, actions and initiatives have been developed to highlight and to promote gender equality in work and study.
  • In 2015, the Department of Biological Sciences secured a Bronze award and in 2016 the Department of Psychological Sciences secured a Bronze award. It is envisaged that more departments will participate in developing local Athena SWAN submissions so that the good gender equality practices are embedded across the College.
  • The College institutional submission for renewal of the Bronze award was submitted in November 2016, with results available in April 2017.
  • Athena SWAN activities are overseen at an Institutional level by the College's Self-Assessment Team (SAT).

Broader Athena SWAN

  • The College has signed up to the revised Athena SWAN Charter. Previously, the Charter focused on STEMM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Mathematics and Medicine) subjects, but now also includes Arts, Humanities, Social Sciences, Business and Law.
  • The Master of Birkbeck has personally signed the letter of commitment to the 10 key Athena SWAN principles, which has been formally lodged with the ECU. The Equality Challenge Unit Athena SWAN Awards Handbook outlines the wider framework and what will be involved.
  • Reflecting the changes in the broader Athena SWAN framework, the Self-Assessment Team (SAT), which is chaired by the Master, is currently reviewing its membership and terms of reference.


  • The College is a member of the Equality Challenge Unit. The ECU advances equality and diversity in higher education and colleges.
  • Any member of the College can sign up to access resources, data and information from the ECU simply by registering on the ECU website.


  • The Charter has 10 principles at its core, the benefits of which include retention of highly valued female staff, access to a network of contacts and external recognition of positive action already undertaken.
  • In 2013, ECU commissioned a team from Loughborough University to undertake a comprehensive, independent assessment of the impact and benefits of the Athena SWAN Charter both on participating higher education institutions and on the wider sector.
  • In 2015, the ECU revised the Athena SWAN scheme to include Arts, Humanities and Social Sciences, so that all academic disciplines can participate in the initiative.

Athena SWAN Self-Assessment Team

  • Athena SWAN activities are overseen at an institutional level by the Self-Assessment Team (SAT). The SAT meets on a monthly basis and is chaired by the Master of Birkbeck. It essentially monitors and reviews the work being done on Athena SWAN along with championing gender equality.
    • Naomi Adams, Assistant School Manager, Science Administrative Champion
    • Dr Becky Briant, Senior Lecturer and Geography Champion
    • Dr Belinda Brooks-Gordon, Reader/Assistant Dean Science Equalities
    • Professor Hilary Downes, Geochemistry
    • Sahar Erfani, Widening Access Manager
    • Dr Ben Fairbairn, Lecturer and Economics, Mathematics and Statistics Champion
    • Dr Teodora Gilga, MRC Programme Leaders and Postdoc Champion
    • Dr Diane Horn, Reader
    • Professor Nick Keep, Executive Dean, School of Science
    • Professor Helen Lawton-Smith, TRIGGER representative
    • Jeanne Le Roux, TRIGGER representative
    • Professor Matt Longo, Psychological Sciences and SAT Coordinator
    • Dr Almuth McDowall, Work-Life Balance Expert
    • Dr Viviana Meschitti, TRIGGER representative
    • Professor Carolyn Moores, Professor of Structural Biology and Biological Sciences' SAT Co-ordinator
    • Robert Morrison
    • Dr Maura Paterson, Business, Economics and Informatics and SAT Coordinator
    • Dr Philip Pogge von Strandmann, Senior Lecturer in Isotope Geochemistry
    • Professor Alex Poulovassilis, CSIS Champion
    • Professor George Roussos, Professor of Pervasive Computing
    • Ben Spittles, HR Business Partner
    • Richard Wilson, Deputy Director Human Resources
    • Dr Joanne Winning, Senior Lecturer, Department of English and Humanities.

Athena SWAN Action Plan

  • Many actions and activities have taken place since the 2012 Action Plan. These include:
    • establishing a mentoring programme by TRIGGER
    • the appointment of an Assistant Dean of Equalities in the School of Science
    • ensuring that our Staff Survey can extract data reports by Gender in STEMM and use this information to inform decision-making and reviews
    • developing a virtual exhibition entitled ‘Against the Odds’, celebrating female alumni of Birkbeck and their achievements
    • holding regular events to raise the profile of women in STEMM.
  • Other areas of ongoing activity include:
    • developing an Aspiring Women’s Professor Network
    • designing and launching an in-house Unconscious Bias and Recruitment Update training for all colleagues who will sit on Reward Panels
    • reviewing the use of Shared Parental Leave within the College
    • revisiting the statements and logos that we use on our jobs portal to reinforce our commitment to the Athena SWAN Charter principles
    • introducing online Equality and Diversity training
    • developing a Parents' Network for working parents at Birkbeck
    • using the academic review as a mechanism to advance gender equality.