Good Practice (external)

This page provides you with examples of good practice from Athena SWAN submissions at other universities.

Maternity mentoring scheme

University of Edinburgh, School of Biomedical Sciences - Silver award

In 2013, this School set up a maternity mentoring programme for people going on, and then returning from, maternity leave. The scheme matches staff with others, according to issues and experiences. It was taken up by 4 staff members in the first year, and has had a notable impact on at least 2 of these staff members. The first is a research fellow who had said that she was struggling to balance the demands of research with two small children. The School matched her with a female professor who herself has had experience of balancing children with a research career. They worked out a forward plan of action and she is currently successfully working, no longer considering resigning.

This is a more personal approach to address issues particularly faced by women. Mentoring is a very powerful tool and there is research that shows that women are less likely than men to make mentoring partnerships without a structured scheme being in place. Whilst the example on the previous slide was about changing practices, this example is more focused on supporting people to manage realities in the short-term.

Postdoctoral Network

University of Oxford, Department of Oncology - Silver award

This department identified that challenges in progression from postdoc to independent Research Fellow and group leader was a significant barrier to equality in the department. As well as extending PDR to postdocs, which resulted in postdoc satisfaction around feeling supported in their career planning increasing from 26% to 61%, they also facilitated the set-up of a postdoctoral network, led by a committee, with an annual budget and formal reporting to group leader and executive meetings. Senior staff work with the committee to organise careers events and training courses, and create a database of specialist equipment and expertise throughout the field. In the 2014 survey, 85% of network members said they found it useful. The events themselves are reported useful by over 95% attendees.

Relaxing Undergraduate entry requirements

Queen’s University Belfast, School of Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering - Silver award

Two years ago the School relaxed entry requirements allowing any science to accompany mathematics. This was in direct response to SWAN, through which we recognised that many females choose Chemistry or Biology rather than Physics A Level. Internal analysis showed that only 14% of STEM females in Northern Ireland study Physics A Level compared to 29% studying Biology. We expect this change will have a long term positive effect on student female numbers. Analysis of previous actions identified the importance of strong female representation on our Student Recruitment Team which is now chaired by a female academic.

Restructuring of Undergraduate course

University of Cambridge, Department of Physics - Gold award

The number of women who read Physics in the first year is key to the career pipeline. After Year 1 the students develop a stronger subject focus and the number choosing Physics in Year 2 is the earliest indicator of the success of the Department’s SWAN actions. The impact of our work is evident from the annual “intentions” survey of the Year 1 students at the end of the academic year. Figure 5 shows the percentage who declared, prior to end of year exams, their intention to continue Physics in Year 2 as a fraction of those who intended to study Physics in all four years when they arrived in Cambridge. A significant positive increase in the intentions of the women undergraduates is observed. This is due to the re‐design of the first‐year course to smooth the transition from school to University. It now provides a gradual introduction to the more mathematical aspects of the course, and includes teamwork and a structured approach to practical sessions. The Department has also made a positive action to expose the first two years of undergraduates to all female academic staff members. Although more progress has yet to be made to achieve gender parity, the retention of women to Year 2 has risen by 39% between 2010 and 2012 compared to 11% for the men; these data provide clear evidence for positive impact.

Provision of room for breastfeeding and rest

University College London, Institute of Neurology - Silver award

This institute designated a room for pre- or post-partum women to use when they are feeling unwell, need a rest or need to express breast milk. The room has a sink, fridge, water dispenser, small table, four chairs and a long sofa. The room is lockable from the inside and has an “in use” sign on the outside of the door. Although developed for IoN employees, anyone with a valid UCL card can use it.

Records of use are not kept but have had positive feedback from several women, e.g.: “This is a major advance”; and, “I just wanted to say thank you for organising the maternity room. I was feeling unwell this morning and having access to a quiet space to rest did me the world of good.” The room also represents a visible commitment. A further comment from a staff member (who did not need the facility specifically) is: “Nice to see something truly concrete in this domain!”

Unconscious Bias observers

University of York, Department of Chemistry - Gold Award

In 2014, they decided to include an unconscious bias observer (an academic who has received unconscious bias awareness training) on academic short-listing panels. The role is to listen to and record the decision-making and to reflect back to the panel any instances of bias. A staff member involved in an observed selection panel said:

"Being observed while shortlisting 130 candidates down to 5 had a significant impact - in particular by having it pointed out how easily implicit assumptions made by some individuals while rapidly assessing CVs could significantly sway the considered opinion of the panel. The process of being observed made me much more reflective in considering how I personally came to such decisions, and has gone on to influence my ongoing recruitment practice."

Postdoctoral Teaching Associate posts

Royal Holloway, University of London Department of Psychology - Silver award

Created postdoctoral teaching associate posts, aimed at postdoctoral early career researchers (ECRs) who needed more time to become competitive for permanent academic appointments. The Department offers these individuals teaching and project supervision experience, and supports them in publishing their PhD work. Of the eight PDTA post-holders (7F, 1M), all but one have successfully gained lectureships after an average of 22 months as PDTAs.

Advance HE Athena SWAN Charter good practice resource bank

An online resource of good practice from across the sector to help institutions to continue promoting and progressing gender equality.