Athena SWAN FAQ


What is the Athena SWAN definition of STEMM and who can apply?

  • The 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)
  • For the University of Bristol this means that departments eligible for awards include all Schools within the Faculties of Engineering, Medicine and Dentistry, Medical and Veterinary Science and Science.

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Should departmental submissions be coordinated by the Head of School or a senior member of staff?

  • It is advised that a senior academic leads the Self Assessment Team, and it can be easier to get support of the whole department if the preparations are led by a more senior staff member or Head of School. However the co-ordination and construction of the submission can be allocated and tasked as the Self Assessment Team sees appropriate. The panel will expect the Athena SWAN submission to be academically led.

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How can we engage people in the process?

  • The Head of School sets the tone. Engage people through staff meetings. Submit the draft report to management meetings. Put the minutes of the self-assessment team on the Intranet. Remember to sell the message to men as well as women.

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How do we get our data?

  • When the department knows it will be submitting an application you must notify the Equality and Diversity Officer and your Faculty HR team as soon as possible. Your Faculty HR team will provide you with the staff data reports for the corresponding questions within the submission, so early notification will allow for all staff reports to be sent through in good time to the Self Assessment Team. For any queries relating to the breakdown of data, you will need to contact the HR team in the first instance.
  • Student data will need to be requested from Student Systems Information Office via the following link (copy and paste the relevant details from the SWAN application and paste into the request form) www.bristol.ac.uk/ssio/informationrequestform/
  • Qualitative data can be obtained through surveys which are recommended to understand any indicators behind the numerical data.  Survey templates are available via the guidance documents on this site.

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Who should we include in the STEMM data?

  • Data on students is included because they provide the pipeline for future staff and their perceptions will have an impact on future employment.
  • Although these submissions are aimed at addressing the advancement of women’s careers in STEMM, be sure to include data and comparable analysis against the numbers of men in the department.

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Where can we find information about national statistics and data?

  • Equality Challenge Unit (ECU) publishes a selection of statistics relating to the higher education sector drawn primarily from the HESA data set.  A report is available from ECU or online at ECU Publications.
  • WISE (Women into Science and Engineering) provides a range of data on women in STEMM at UK HEIs.  See their  website for more information. 
  • Departments often look at relevant professional bodies for information on a specific discipline.

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We recently changed our HR system and the data is not easily comparable with previous years. Is this acceptable?

  • We welcome efforts to improve data gathering. You should explain what the changes are and how they have affected the application in the section for ‘any other comments’. As long as explanations for missing data are concise and reasonable the panel will accept this.
  • You should, nevertheless, make efforts to compare progress over the years so that you can identify where efforts should be prioritised.

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How should we present our data?

  • Data should be presented in graphs and tables clearly highlighting trends and drawing these out in the narrative.  As the panel will be receiving the submissions in black and white (unless departments have provided colour copies), the format of the graphs should be made easy to decipher.
  • Do not present data in percentage form without referring to numbers.
  • Data should correspond to the section heading, and should cover the three years preceding the submission and include male and female numbers.

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Is there a threshold for proportions of female staff at each award level?

  • No. Circumstances will vary, for example, some departments may have very few or no female staff, but you will be expected to put in place mechanisms to address this.

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My department has an unusual set-up: how do I ensure that the judges understand this?

  • Use the opening section (providing pen picture of department) to provide a concise picture of your department, drawing out any unusual features so that the judges can better understand the structure of the department.
  • You can also use the section ‘any other information’ to highlight particular differences between you and other departments.

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The Self Assessment Team says that the tone of the draft submission is too critical and negative. Do you think we will be judged harshly for this?

  • It is unlikely that the judges will view this in a negative light. One of the most important things the judges look for is honesty, and provided that an organisation recognises its short-comings and then proposes action plans to address them, the panel will view this kind of self-criticism quite favourably.  In fact, they may be suspicious of an overly rosy portrayal!  However, at Silver and Gold level you will need to show that you have made progress!

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How firm is the word count: we cannot explain all our activities within the limits?

  • Word counts have been given for sections as a whole; it is up to you how you use these words within subsections. However, you must not exceed the word count, either in the body of the form or by attaching annexes.
  • It is not necessary to set out every gender-related policy, especially those that are required by law and which every institution will be implementing.
  • Focus on what you are doing that is innovative or different.  Be concise, more is not necessarily better.

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  • No. The panel will be looking at the submissions in a hard copy format so web links within the application should be not included.

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Can we have an extension to the deadline for submission?

  • The deadlines for all levels of submission are the last working days in April and November. We are unable to offer any extensions to the deadline. 
  • Judging panels are arranged in advance and the judges need enough time to read and understand each of the submissions thoroughly in order to make their decision and provide considered feedback.

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Can someone from Athena SWAN proofread or check my application before I submit it formally?

  • No.  The SWAN Charter Coordinator and UKRC staff are involved in the judging panels and it would be a conflict of interest for them to check applications. The Equality and Diversity Officer will be able to provide advice and guidance during the application process and attend the Self Assessment Team meetings to help share ideas, good practice from other departments and provide support.
  • Members of the University of Bristol SWAN Network have volunteered to act as critical readers for draft submissions, so applying departments can have their applications read and have feedback provided from individuals with SWAN experience.
  • You should also look at the links to previous applications on the website (www.athenaswan.org.uk/content/bronze).

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Should I send the submission in hard copy or electronically?

  • Electronic copies should be sent to Athena SWAN in a PDF format as an entire application (i.e. do not send the covering letter and action plan as separate documents) this will allow it to be printable on A4 paper without adjustment.
  • Submissions for panellists will be printed in black and white; if a submission needs to be considered in colour, submitting departments should send in ten colour copies within five working days of the deadline.

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Should departments encourage and share good practice with other departments within the University?

  • Yes. It’s good to have active links between departments to share good practice and support each other. York University has an Athena SWAN Committee across different STEMM departments, which supports departments where women are under-represented and more isolated.  At Imperial College successful departments mentor applicant departments the following year. The University of Bristol Athena SWAN Network provides SWAN leads, and those involved with departmental submissions, the opportunity to share their knowledge and feedback of actions and initiatives taking place in their Schools, as well sharing their experiences of the application process.

Further information about completing the Athena SWAN submission can be found in the official Athena SWAN Handbook

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