Athena SWAN Background and Charter

The Equality Challenge Unit's (ECU) Athena SWAN Charter evolved from work between the Athena Project and the Scientific Women’s Academic Network (SWAN), to advance the representation of women in science, technology, engineering, medicine and mathematics (STEMM).

With the support of the UKRC, the Charter was officially launched at the Institute of Physics on 22 June 2005, with the University of Bristol being amongst the first awards conferred in 2006, as well as being a founder signatory.  The University has continued its work with the Athena SWAN Charter and achieved a Bronze Renewal award in 2014.  A further 12 schools in the Faculties of Medicine and Dentistry, Medical and Veterinary Sciences, Engineering, and Science, have achieved Bronze and Silver awards.


In May 2015 the scope of ECU’s Athena SWAN Charter was expanded to cover gender equality in arts, humanities, social sciences, business and law disciplines (AHSSBL)  and recognise the work undertaken in professional and support roles, and for trans staff and students.

The charter now recognises work undertaken to address gender equality more broadly, and not just barriers to progression that affect women.

The Athena SWAN Charter is based on ten key principles. By being part of Athena SWAN, institutions are committing to a progressive charter; adopting these principles within their policies, practices, action plans and culture.

1. We acknowledge that academia cannot reach its full potential unless it can benefit from the talents of all.

2. We commit to advancing gender equality in academia, in particular, addressing the loss of women across the career pipeline and the absence of women from senior academic, professional and support roles.

3. We commit to addressing unequal gender representation across academic disciplines and professional and support functions. In this we recognise disciplinary differences including:

  • The relative under representation of women in senior roles in arts, humanities, social sciences, business and law (AHSSBL)
  • The particularly high loss rate of women in science, technology, engineering, mathematics and medicine (STEMM)

4. We commit to tackling the gender pay gap.

5. We commit to removing the obstacles faced by women, in particular, at major points of career development and progression including the transition from PhD into a sustainable academic career.

6. We commit to addressing the negative consequences of using short-term contracts for the retention and progression of staff in academia, particularly women.

7. We commit to tackling the discriminatory treatment often experienced by trans people.

8. We acknowledge that advancing gender equality demands commitment and action from all levels of the organisation and in particular active leadership from those in senior roles.

9. We commit to making and mainstreaming sustainable structural and cultural changes to advance gender equality, recognising that initiatives and actions that support individuals alone will not sufficiently advance equality.

10. All individuals have identities shaped by several different factors. We commit to considering the intersection of gender and other factors wherever possible.

Pre-May 2015 Athena SWAN Background and Principles

The pre-May 2015 Athena SWAN for STEMM departments will remain active until the final round in November 2016, where the new initiative will replace it and all departments will need to apply using the new process.  More information on this can be found in the Athena SWAN Guidance tab.

The Charter has grown consistently from its inception; now over half of all higher education institutions that are active in STEMM subject areas are members.  Athena SWAN awards have also gone from strength to strength.  Currently, there are 382 award holders (institutes and departments combined).  Athena SWAN received a major boost in 2011, when 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.


The University of Bristol is a founder member of the Royal Society Athena SWAN Charter which recognises excellence in STEMM (science, technology, mathematics and medicine) employment in higher education, with particular regard to gender equality.  When the Charter was launched in June 2005, all UK universities were invited to become Charter signatories.  Bristol became a founder signatory and the Vice-Chancellor signed up to the principles enshrined in the Charter through a letter of commitment (Word 27 Kb, PDF 15 Kb).

The following principles were agreed:

  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.