The Athena SWAN journey and its impact on gender equality in the School of Medicine, Dentistry and Biomedical Sciences at Queen's University, Belfast

Karen D. McCloskey*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapter


The Athena SWAN Charter was developed in 2005 by the Equality Challenge Unit, UK with the aim of encouraging and recognising commitment to progressing the careers of women in STEMM academia (Science, Technology, Engineering, Mathematics and Medicine), where traditionally there were few female students, researchers or academics. More recently, the charter was extended to Arts, Humanities, Social Sciences, Business and Law (AHSSBL). Universities who commit to the principles of the Charter are then eligible to apply for Institutional Awards, recognising their commitment to advancing the careers of women and working towards Gender Equality across the Institution. With successful Institutional Awards, Departments or Schools (Units) are able to apply for Departmental Awards at Bronze, Silver or Gold level. This chapter will reflect on the experiences of the School of Medicine, Dentistry and Biomedical Sciences in Queen's University Belfast in its Athena SWAN Silver Award journey and the impact that this has had across the School. We have learned that the combination of a supportive culture and decisive leadership are key to promoting Gender Equality which is encapsulated in the concept of 'fairness' where initiatives that may be perceived as primarily benefiting women (e.g., flexible working) also benefit men e.g., with parental or caring responsibilities. Across our School, consistent with the national UK and international context, the majority of our undergraduate and postgraduate students are female. We are encouraged that more than 50% of our early career academics (lecturers and postdoctoral researchers) are female, yet at Professorial level the percentage drops to around 20%. As part of our Athena SWAN programme, culture surveys and focus groups are held to obtain feedback on perceptions of opportunities for (and barriers to) career progression. This context informs our Action Plans and initiatives such as the Womens' Early Career Network (WeCAN) have developed from this to support women through career progression. The influences of Unconscious Bias and Stereotyping in all aspects of academic life from how students evaluate their lecturers to decision making in recruitment panels will be discussed in the context of gender difference and diversity. Finally, the importance of Reaching Out and examples of how the School engages with the wider Faculty, University, other Universities and the non-academic sector to share good practice and promote Gender Equality will be highlighted.

Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationLeadership for Improvement
Subtitle of host publicationPerceptions, Influences and Gender Differences
PublisherNova Science Publishers, Inc
Number of pages19
ISBN (Electronic)9781536129458
ISBN (Print)9781536129441
Publication statusPublished - 01 Jan 2017


  • Athena SWAN
  • Culture change
  • Gender equality
  • Leadership
  • Mentoring
  • Unconscious bias

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Social Sciences(all)


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