The Athena SWAN journey: sharing top tips and best practice from Gold departmental award holders

On 11th June 2019, we held a workshop to share and promote best practice between institutions and departments applying for Athena SWAN awards.

Three Athena SWAN Gold Award Holders spoke about their Athena SWAN journey:

Dr Caroline Dessent, Department of Chemistry, University of York (Gold 2007, 2010, 2015, 2018 – the UK’s longest Gold Award holder) (lecture available here).

Dr Cindy Gray, Institute of Health and Wellbeing, University of Glasgow (Bronze 2014, Silver 2015, Gold 2017) (lecture available here).

Professor Helen Sang, The Roslin Institute, University of Edinburgh (Bronze 2012, Silver 2014, Gold 2017) (lecture available here).

The workshop was well attended both within the University (with representatives from 12 departments across Arts, Science and Medicine Faculties) and also several attendees from the wider Scottish Athena SWAN network (University of Glasgow, Marine Scotland).

“Despite some criticism of the Athena Swan process as burdensome and bureaucratic, there is widespread agreement that it has achieved remarkable progress in improving working environments across the country.  Rightly, we are moving consideration of these issues away from gender and women, and more towards equality and fairness for everyone,” said Prof Sascha Hooker, hosting the workshop.

Only eleven UK Departments hold Gold Awards, and so getting speakers from three in one place was considered quite a coup! We heard tips from the top as speakers outlined their journey and many of their initiatives, things that had worked and things that had not.  All in the audience were seen busily scribbling down ideas and there was a definite sense that we were all benefitting (speakers included)!

Talks during the morning were followed by a panel session during the afternoon.  This gave us a chance to talk about many of the issues that we all face, including:

– difficulties in attracting staff and increasing BAME representation in small towns

– mentoring and networking initiatives for Professional and Support Staff

– flexible working and the stigma that can be attached to this

– differences between teaching departments and research institutes in terms of autonomy

– workload stress and mental health

– mentoring burdens associated with gender sensitivity


Overall, participants agreed that it was an incredibly valuable session sharing a lot of good practice.

“It was brilliant – thank you for organising this workshop” feedback from male lecturer.

We are very grateful for support from Wellcome ISSF Equality and Diversity funds, which allowed us to host this workshop.


L to R: Sascha Hooker, Helen Sang, Caroline Dessent, Cindy Gray