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22 June 2005 PR 05/59

Launch of new charter for women in science

Loughborough University has been named as one of the first founder members of a new initiative aimed at tackling the lack of women academic staff in science, engineering and technology (SET) in UK higher education.

The ‘Athena SWAN Charter’ will be launched by the Athena SWAN (the Scientific Women’s Academic Network) partnership today (Wednesday 22 June) at the Institute of Physics, London. The charter is a scheme that recognises excellence in SET employment in higher education. It will help universities to create more equitable working environments for women scientists, and will also reward universities that are making positive steps though bronze, silver and gold SWAN recognition awards.

Dr Louise Archer, a co-manager of the charter and founder of SWAN, said: “Becoming a charter member will help universities to make practical, positive changes. The awards will also recognise, celebrate and publicise the good practice that already exists.”

The founder members are: Loughborough University, Bristol University, Cambridge University, Heriot Watt University, Imperial College London, Oxford University, Plymouth University, Queen’s University Belfast, Southampton University and University College London.

Universities who sign up to the Charter commit themselves to its six principles:
1. To address gender inequalities requires commitment and action from everyone, at all levels of the organisation
2. To tackle the unequal representation of women in science requires changing cultures and attitudes across the organisation
3. The high loss rate of women in science is an urgent concern, which the organisation will address
4. The use of short-term contracts has particularly negative consequences for the retention and progression of women in science, which the university recognises
5. The transition from PhD into a sustainable academic career in science can be particularly difficult for women and requires active consideration by the organisation
6. The absence of diversity at management and policy-making levels has broad implications which the organisation will examine

Universities who become charter members pledge themselves to action at organisational and departmental levels, and to monitor their progress and provide an annual account of their action and plans to improve women’s participation and progression in SET.

The charter has been developed as a ‘bottom-up’ initiative out of the work of SWAN, co-ordinated by London Metropolitan University. The idea emerged from a SWAN conference held in October 2002 and was subsequently developed by network members - many of whom are women scientists. It has since been taken up and developed in conjunction with ‘Athena’, to become the ‘Athena SWAN Charter’.

Dr Louise Archer explains: “The charter is exciting and innovative because it combines the real life views and experiences of women in SET departments across the country, together with Athena’s established track record in identifying good practice in the sector”.

The development of the SWAN Charter has been made possible by the support of the UK Resource Centre for Women in SET (UKRC), with funding from the European Social Fund under the Equal initiative.


For further information contact:

Notes to editors

  1. The SWAN Charter won the Institute of Physics prize in the 2004 Royal Society Athena Awards. The Athena Project is based at and supported by The Royal Society. Its other main supporters include BP, Equality Challenge Unit, the Institute of Physics, Pfizer, Royal Academy of Engineering, Royal Society of Chemistry and The Wellcome Trust
  2. The UK Resource Centre for Women in Science Engineering Technology is based in Bradford and is being developed by the JIVE consortium of Bradford College, Sheffield Hallam, Open University and Cambridge University. Visit http://www.setwomenresource.org.uk or email n.sullivan@bradfordcollege.ac.uk for press enquiries.
  3. General information about the charter can be found at: http://www.athenaswan.org.uk or by emailing athena@royalsoc.ac.uk
  4. Photographs of the launch are available upon request from Lindsay Melling.
  5. Loughborough has an established reputation for excellence in teaching and research, strong links with industry, and unrivalled sporting achievement. Assessments of teaching quality by the Quality Assurance Agency place Loughborough in the top flight of UK universities, and industry highlights Loughborough in its top five for graduate recruitment. Around 45% of the University’s income is for research. The University has been awarded four Queen’s Anniversary Prizes: for its collaboration with aerospace and automotive companies such as BAE Systems, Ford and Rolls Royce; for its work in developing countries; for pioneering research in optical engineering; and for its world-leading role in sports research, education and development.

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