The Athena SWAN Accreditation Framework

The Athena SWAN Charter is based on 10 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.

The 10 principles of the Athena SWAN Charter

  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 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 transgender 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.

Athena SWAN has an international reputation for creating a gender inclusive workplace, with accredited institutions demonstrating a competitive edge in attracting the best scientists.

A recent House of Commons Science and Technology Committee report in the UK, Women in Scientific Careers, found that the Athena SWAN Charter is the most comprehensive and practical scheme to improve academics’ careers by addressing gender inequity. Another independent evaluation found that women scientists employed in organisations participating in the Athena SWAN Charter experienced greater career satisfaction and fairness in the workload allocation, and increased opportunities for training and development.


Eight New Institutions Join the SAGE Pilot of the Athena SWAN Charter

Eight New Institutions Join the SAGE Pilot of the Athena SWAN Charter


Eight new institutions were welcomed into the SAGE Pilot of Athena SWAN at the SAGE Symposium in Sydney, on 24 June 2016. They joined the 32 existing Athena SWAN Charter Members in Australia.

The eight new institutions are:

  • Australian Astronomical Observatory
  • Bond University
  • Burnet Institute
  • Defence Science and Technology Group
  • Federation University Australia
  • James Cook University
  • Macquarie University
  • University of the Sunshine Coast

This brings the total number of organisation participating in the SAGE Pilot to 40 institutions which includes 30 universities; six medical research institutes and four publicly funded research agencies.

In joining the Pilot, each institution has declared their commitment to the 10 Principles of the Athena SWAN Charter. The Vice Chancellor or Director of each institution has undertaken a commitment to support and resource their respective institutes to lead an evidence-based evaluation of policy, practices and cultural change to drive gender equity and diversity.

Athena SWAN Workshop on Data and Analysis

Athena SWAN Workshop on Data and Analysis

The first of our bi-annual Athena SWAN training workshops for SAGE Pilot participants will be delivered in February 2016. Athena SWAN is a gender equity and diversity evaluation and accreditation process developed in the UK in 2005. The SAGE Pilot of Athena SWAN in Australia represents the first country to adopt this process outside the UK and the Republic of Ireland.

The SAGE Pilot includes 32 STEMM institutions who are the inaugural Athena SWAN Charter members in Australia. The Vice Chancellors and Directors of these 32 institutions have signed to uphold the 10 Athena SWAN principles that form the basis of the Athena SWAN Charter. The aim of the Charter is to address the structural barriers that stop different groups of women as well as other underrepresented groups from reaching their full potential in academia.

Charter members represent over half of the higher education sector in Australia, along with a further five medical research institutes and two publicly funded research agencies. These institutions will work towards a Bronze Athena SWAN Institutional Application, demonstrating evidence that their institutions have the capacity to eliminate gender bias and to create an inclusive culture for all.

The February workshop focuses on data collection and analysis requirements for their award application, as well as highlighting examples of best practice from the UK. Around 90% of the higher education sector belongs to the UK Athena SWAN Charter.

A member of the UK Athena SWAN Team, James Lush, will be assisting SAGE Project Manager, Dr Zuleyka Zevallos, to deliver the workshop across six cities around Australia.

The workshop activities will assist members to reflect on how they might collect and analyse gender equity data for their Athena SWAN applications, as well as how to better address information gaps when evaluating gender equity issues within their institutions. Institutions can nominate up to 10 representatives to attend our workshops.

Read more

SAGE Pilot of Athena SWAN in Australia: Call for Applications

SAGE Pilot of Athena SWAN in Australia: Call for Applications

Over a two-year period, up to 20 universities, medical research institutes and publicly funded research agencies will be selected to participate in the SAGE Pilot. The Pilot will commence in August 2015 and require participants to collect, analyse and present data on gender equity policies and practices in STEM departments, as well as identify gaps and opportunities for improvement. Participants will work towards an Athena SWAN Award at the Institutional Bronze level, which is a mandatory requirement for future Silver and Gold awards at the institutional and departmental levels.

**Call for applications are now closed for STEM institutions to participate in the SAGE Pilot.** Read more

Walking in the shoes of others: Seeing and overcoming the complexities of intersectionality

25 March 2020

The workshop ‘Walking in the shoes of others: Seeing and overcoming the complexities of intersectionality’ took place at the Catalysing Gender Equity Conference on 20 February 2020. The workshop summary report follows.

Facilitators: Associate Professor Cate Thomas, Dr Colleen MacMillan (SAGE ACT Regional Network)


An action-based experience into how intersectionality affects engagement at work, and how inclusion of intersectional input can create positive change to structural barriers and improve outcomes for individuals and organisations. Specifically:

  • participants had the opportunity to actively contribute to understanding and educating others in why intersectionality is important for innovative organisations
  • participant interaction – to see intersectionality at work in individual lives through the intersectionality walk and how our organisations can make the most of diversity and remove structural barriers that have negative consequences
  • engagement of participants in a research project following the workshop, and
  • provision/use of the intersectionality walk as an educative tool in their own organisations

Workshop summary:

An overview of intersectionality in the context of the Women in STEM Decadal Plan and the Athena SWAN Principles was provided as a guide to incorporating intersectionality when considering gender equity rather than enabling a siloed approach to cultural and organizational change. The workshop challenged participants to see individuals via a holistic approach rather than components or labels of differing aspects of one’s life.  The workshop, with this new way of conceptualising human experiences and inclusivity, undertook a recently developed “Intersectionality Walk” by stepping into other personas shoes (metaphorically). These personas had several characteristics from vulnerable / minority population groups e.g. gender, age, social economic status, cultural diversity, disability, LGBTIQ+, etc. Experiencing work-based scenarios in another’s shoes (personas) and responding to how this may impact created real insights for participants. With reflection participants gained further empathy for an understanding of challenges that organisations experience around intersectionality and inclusivity, and opportunities to innovate.

Key outcomes:

  • a high-impact workshop – with many participants registering strong engagement and value in participating in the workshop
  • substantive interest from participants from multiple organisations across the national footprint to continue work and research in intersectionality
  • 29 individual institutions/organisations signed on to be involved in the research lead by the workshop authors and all requested the Intersectionality Walk for implementation in their own organisations.

Next steps:

  • Distribution of workshop materials to 29 institutions for implementation (SAGE host platform)
  • Research – analysis of pre and post workshop survey data to identify further research and publication in the area of intersectionality.

Going for Gold … optimise what you do

How did the John Innes Centre in Norfolk, England, achieve an Athena SWAN Gold Award?
We talk to Dr Carole Thomas from the Centre to find out.

Dr Carole Thomas at Sydney University

Above, Dr Carole Thomas at Sydney University on her trip over to Australia last year presenting to SAGE members.

As the first independent research institute to be awarded an Athena SWAN Gold Award, the John Innes Centre (JIC) in the UK stands out from its peers.

So, how did this international Centre of plant science, genetics and microbiology based in Norwich in Norfolk, England, achieve Athena SWAN Gold accreditation?

Obviously, not without a great deal of self-assessment, deep thinking, collaborative effort and sheer hard work from its staff and students. But what made the Centre stand out and be recognised with a Gold Award?

Dr Carole Thomas, the Centre’s Head of Directorate and Chair of JIC Inclusivity and Diversity Committee, said the key to achieving Gold lies in reviewing what you do honestly, identifying where the gaps are and putting initiatives in place to address them.

“You need to optimise what you are already doing; extend, improve and add initiatives; and then raise awareness both within the organisation you work in and externally,” she said.

Comprehensive review

“At JIC, we did a comprehensive review of everything we were doing to identify what we did well and, more importantly, what we didn’t do well.”

For the gaps that emerged from the review, either new initiatives were put in place to address them, or the team tweaked ones that were already happening to make sure they were fit for purpose.

“Having identified what works and what doesn’t, and in the spirit of Athena SWAN, we shared and promoted the successful initiatives with other organisations,” she said.

“It’s important to be open-minded. You’d be surprised at the amount of activity going on where you work that contributes towards gender equity and diversity and inclusion that you may not be aware of. You will definitely need to search it out.

“Our Gold Award brings together everything the Centre does in this arena and has been achieved not by doing more, but by capturing what we already do.”

Cauliflower Mosaic virus

Dr Thomas’ role is to provide high-level strategic and operational support to the Centre’s Director and to ensure that the JIC directorate is run in a professional, effective and efficient manner.

She also leads on the Centre’s Athena SWAN accreditation applications, but this was not her role to start with.

In 1982, when she started work as a PhD student at JIC researching Cauliflower Mosaic virus, she could not have imagined that 31 years later she would be managing its Athena SWAN Silver Award application.

A catalyst for a change of career direction came in 2008, when the role of Head of Directorate was created.

“The position was created to address the workload of the Director and ended up including attending senior committees and taking on the role of the Senior Equality and Diversity Champion,” she said.

Joining the 2013 UK pilot

In 2010, a change in Director saw the appointment of Professor Dale Sanders, who had already been involved with applying for Athena SWAN accreditation as Head of a Biology Sciences Department at York University.

“The new Director wanted to know why the Centre did not have Athena SWAN accreditation or why an application was not in progress but, at the time, the Athena SWAN Charter in the UK was restricted to universities,” said Dr Thomas.

In 2013, the Athena SWAN Charter in the UK expanded to include research institutes and the Royal Society called for volunteers for the Pilot. JIC joined straight away.

The Centre has more than 400 employees and more than 100 students working on projects or initiatives at any one time.

“Working towards, gaining and keeping Athena SWAN accreditation is hugely time-consuming, but it is also extremely rewarding and makes a real difference for staff.

Focus and visibility

“All people are important on all levels – not that they weren’t before, but it brings more focus and visibility to what is happening, more equity, diversity and inclusion, too,” she said.

It was decided that the Centre would apply for an Athena SWAN Silver Award and bypass the Bronze in the 2013 pilot, as there were already various initiatives for gender equity and diversity and inclusion on the go, including an Equality and Diversity Committee.

“The Centre’s Director was extremely supportive with going for a Silver Award, as he brought his experience with Athena SWAN with him.

“However, some staff were not so sure, they were very wary that Athena SWAN was basically just for women and would not benefit anyone else or the Centre as a whole.

“But in reality, while ingrained bad practices and outdated ways of operating impact women much more than men, using Athena SWAN as a mechanism to evaluate, change and improve how things are done actually benefits everyone and the Centre, too.”

Dr Carole Thomas winning the Gold Award

The John Innes Centre team receiving the Athena SWAN Gold Award, from left, Director, Professor Dale Sander; Head of Directorate, Dr Carole Thomas; HR Manager, Tana Mead; amd Youth Aspirations Champion, Samantha Fox.

Capture what’s already being done

Once Silver was achieved and towards the end of the three-year accreditation period, rather than renew the Silver Award the Centre put in an application for Gold.

“For the Gold application, I felt it was important to achieve this award by capturing what people are already doing and are passionate about, not by asking them to do more.

“Our Gold award recognises the embedding of Athena SWAN principles into the Institute’s culture. It has more of a ‘ground roots’ approach with many more people involved.

“Both staff and students came forward with proposals suggesting ways of making the working environment more inclusive, which was great to see,” she said.

To ensure nothing is lost between award submissions, Dr Thomas created what she calls an “evidence folder” where she saves evidence of any gender equity, diversity or inclusion actions, activities, initiatives, programs or engagement that she comes across in the Centre.

Sharing is a two-way process

“I try to capture everything that happens – from letters we get from girls who attend our Year 10 Science Camp who were then inspired to go on to careers in STEMM, to ensuring the imagery used at the Centre reflects the diversity of people working there, and our partnerships in Africa and China, where we promote our gender equity and diversity work.

“Even my visit to Australia in December 2018, the presentations I gave about JIC’s Gold Award and sharing our practice with SAGE members will be captured for future accreditation applications,” she said.

“I very much enjoyed my working trip to Australia and learnt a lot from the SAGE networks and teams I met around the country. I also plan to implement some of these initiatives at JIC this year – sharing is definitely a two-way process.”

Her role as Head of Directorate also encompasses being the eyes and ears of the Institute, as well as lots of interaction with many staff at all levels.

“It’s good to know the politics at work and what’s going on. I have a very good relationship with the Centre Director and we speak honestly and frankly, which is really valuable. I also think people value my ideas and input at the Centre as well, which helps enormously,” she said.

A better culture for everyone

After her PhD, Dr Thomas worked as a post-doc for six years but then decided to change career track and take on more of a supporting role as a research assistant. This role enabled her to fit the birth of her first child into her fledging science career.

“From my own experience, I’m fully aware of the challenges that face women who work in STEM higher education and research careers and the importance of family friendly policies,” she said.

As part of its Athena SWAN accreditation, JIC has improved and expanded its family friendly policies and, after many years of campaigning by staff, now has an onsite nursery.

“This is something we have needed for a long time and it is already having a positive impact on parents working at JIC,” Dr Thomas said.

“The culture at JIC is now more inclusive, supportive and collegial. We have mentoring for all staff regardless of their role and a more family friendly, supportive and flexible working environment, too.

Not complacent, still more to do

“Athena SWAN accreditation involves a lot of deep thinking, effort and work, but it is absolutely worth it and at JIC it has resulted in staff feeling like one big team and a much better work experience for everyone,” she said.

“Our Gold Athena SWAN status demonstrates the progress we’ve made in our inclusivity and diversity journey, but it is by no means the end point.

“We are not complacent, we know there is still much more we can do.”