Extension of the Athena SWAN Charter for women in science to the higher education sector in IrelandFriday, 06 February, 2015
Dr. Maria Meehan, UCD School Of Mathematical Sciences; Prof. Andrew Deeks, President of UCD; Prof. Orla Feely, UCD Vice-president for Research, Innovation and Impact; Prof. Mark Rogers, Registrar and Deputy President of UCD; Dr. Sheila Mc Breen, UCD School of Physics; Dr. Patricia Maguire, UCD Conway Institute of Biomolecular & Biomedical Science.
The Irish universities are working to address gender imbalances in the higher education sector through the extension of the Athena SWAN Charter to Ireland, officially launched by Minister for Education and Skills, Jan O'Sullivan.
Speaking at the launch, the President, Professor Andrew Deeks said: “Female academics contribute hugely to research, teaching and to the community in our universities.
Recognition of their contribution is vital and it demonstrates that Ireland is a good place for talented male and female graduates to progress.”
Inequality remains a reality in Ireland and the EU; Irish HEIs are not exceptional in this regard. The participation of men and women is monitored at a European level. Since 2003, the Directorate General for Research and Innovation of the European Commission has published statistics and indicators on women in science and research. Recent She Figures show that only one third of European researchers are female. They also highlight the persistent issues regarding the participation of men and women at senior levels. Across Europe, nine out of ten university rectors are male and only one in five full professors are women. There is also gender imbalance on decision-making bodies, with on average only one woman for every two men on scientific and management boards across the EU.
This overall situation is largely reflected at the national level. Statistics recently published by the HEA reveal that while parity exists at lecturer level where there is a near 50:50 gender split, women are under-represented in senior academic posts with less than a third of senior academic positions in the country’s seven universities held by women.
Irish Universities Association (IUA) Chief Executive, Ned Costello said: "tackling gender equality needs to be actively pursued and the Athena Swan Charter and Awards are a real force for positive change."
During 2015, the UK-based Equality Challenge Unit (ECU) announced that they would, for the first time, make access to their awards system possible outside of the UK by allowing Irish higher education institutions to sign up to the Athena SWAN Charter for women in science. Signing the Charter is the first step towards applying for Athena SWAN Awards, which recognise and celebrate good practice in recruiting, retaining and promoting women in STEMM (science, technology, engineering, mathematics and medicine) in higher education.
The first Award applications from Ireland are due by the end of April next, and the universities are currently preparing their submissions.
The Irish universities, working with colleagues from across the higher education sector, have played a strong role in facilitating this extension of the Charter and the associated Athena SWAN Awards to Ireland. Applications are rigorously reviewed prior to an award being made, and progress is closely monitored afterwards. Securing an award under the Charter involves the development of an institution-wide Action Plan to improve gender equality and diversity, and putting in place appropriate structures to rigorously monitor progress of the Plan's implementation. The Plan itself must be specific to issues faced by the institution. Experience has shown that active engagement and significant "buy-in" from academic staff and senior management is critical to a Plan's successful implementation.
A 2013 external evaluation identified the significant impact of Athena SWAN on organisational structure and culture change in the UK higher education system. The ECU has recently announced the expansion of the Athena SWAN charter to include arts, humanities, social science, business and law departments alongside the current science, technology, engineering, mathematics and medicine disciplines, a development which is welcomed by the universities.
“Our participation in the launch of Athena SWAN today represents a renewed and public expression of our commitment to equality, including gender equality. This is a long term process requiring our ongoing commitment.” The President added.
1 European Commission (2013), She Figures 2012 Gender in Research and Innovation, available online.
(Produced by UCD University Relations)