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Athena SWAN bronze award for the School of Arts

The gender equity and inclusivity marker is used by higher education institutions around the world and is the first time a Birkbeck School has received the award.

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The College’s commitment to celebrating and improving equality in the workplace has been bolstered by the recent announcement of the School of Arts being awarded Athena SWAN bronze status, a scheme led by Advance HE with the guiding principles of the Athena Charter calling on institutions to reflect on their equalities policies and practices.

For the School of Arts, it represents a magnificent achievement as the first of Birkbeck’s five Schools to receive the award following several years undergoing a rigorous application process. The writing of the bid was led by Professor Joanne Winning and Wendy Knowles, who invested much time and effort in gathering data and completing the relevant forms and action plan.

Despite the stringent nature of the schedule, the team found that the Athena SWAN application process presented a prime opportunity for self-examination as well as to gather reliable data about equality, and to think about what could be done better.

For Chair of the Self-Assessment team, Executive Dean of Arts Professor Anthony Bale, the process has also provided a much more detailed portrait of equality issues in terms of both the student body and staff careers: “We now have the data to understand the intersectional challenges faced by many groups and to understand differential attainment. And we have accurate data about academic pipelines - for instance, where male and Black, Asian and minority ethnic students are encountering barriers to postgraduate study. We now have an action plan which will call for us to address training in equality and diversity, and to address specific kinds of underrepresentation in our staff body.”

Reflecting on the successful bid, Professor Bale said, “I am delighted that the School of Arts at Birkbeck has received a prestigious Athena SWAN Bronze Award. It demonstrates our abiding commitment to equality across our portfolio. The Action Plan commits us to enhancing our policies and practices, and we will continue to promote a culture of inclusion and diversity amongst both staff and students." 

The Athena Swan Charter was established in 2005 to support women in science, technology, engineering, mathematics and medicine (STEMM) and since 2015 has been used across the globe to address gender equality more broadly in non-STEMM areas, and not just barriers to progression that affect women. Birkbeck, University of London, has held an Athena SWAN Bronze Award, at institutional level, since 2012.

Advance HE members who apply for the Athena SWAN status undergo a detailed process of assessment. For the Bronze award, Birkbeck had to demonstrate a solid foundation for eliminating gender bias and developing an inclusive culture that values all staff.

Birkbeck’s Self-Assessment Team, for this recent round, will continue to meet and will now get on with implementing the Action Plan, integrating equality initiatives in the School with those happening at Departmental and College level, as well as disseminating best practices. The team are also already considering applying for an Athena SWAN silver award.

Further Information

Find out about Birkbeck's engagement with Athena SWAN 

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