Exploring Departmental Awards for SAGE

25 March 2020

The workshop ‘Exploring Departmental Awards for SAGE’ took place at the Catalysing Gender Equity Conference on 20 February 2020. The workshop summary report follows.

Workshop title: Exploring Departmental Awards for SAGE

Facilitators: Wafa El-Adhami, Alison Johns, Margaret Hartley, Adi Paterson

Objective/s: To inform the design of the SAGE Athena SWAN awards pathway to meet Australian sector needs.

Workshop summary: An overview of the UK Athena SWAN Charter awards pathway showed that the approach continues to evolve from its original, 2005, form. Early stages of the UK awards were at Institutional level only; Departmental awards (flexibly encompassing units which sit below the Institutional level) were introduced in 2010.

While Institutional awards were found to be useful in highlighting high level areas for change, the UK introduction of Departmental awards responded to a need to explore Departmental cultures and disciplinary differences; address specific or localised issues; and to embed change locally. However, the burden of work involved in applying for a Departmental award can be challenging, and indeed this is a key concern for both the Australian and UK sectors. The Athena SWAN framework is currently being reviewed in the UK, with the aim of reducing burden, retaining rigor.

Key themes/ideas which emerged through the workshop discussions were:

  • Institutions should have the autonomy to decide how best to achieve their equity, diversity and inclusion goals and progress from Bronze to Silver award levels. Suggestions were made that:
    • Action is needed at the local level as well as at an Institutional level.
    • Departmental awards do not need to be mandatory.
    • Institutional Silver award applications could include requirements for Department level data analysis and action.
  • Any Departmental strategy must be sustainable, aligned with, and connected to the Institution’s overall strategy and approach.
    • Institutional leadership needs to provide governance and accountability.
    • Data gathering and reporting functions should be centralised.
    • The Department’s leadership and management needs to be engaged beyond implementing Institutional actions to allow the full learnings from a Department to be integrated into Institutional strategy, as appropriate.
  • Certification, rather than accreditation, could help reduce burden for Departments. For example, a Case Study format could be used to highlight change and impact. ‘Flagship themes’ (such as tackling pay equity) could be nominated for Institutional level focus, with strategic actions embedded at Department level to address these themes.
  • A clear picture is needed of what Institutional Silver looks like, and what ‘unit’ or ‘Department’ means in practice.
  • Institutions should use metrics to identify their ‘weakest areas’ and to prioritise change in these (rather than putting forward the ‘best departments’ to achieve awards). This would help drive sector-wide improvements.
  • Data are important to help identify problems and target actions. Benchmarking data are needed to identify common areas for action across the sector, and to understand where (and how) progress and impact are being made.

Key outcomes:

  • ‘reduce burden, retain rigour’.
  • enable Institutions the required flexibility and autonomy in decision-making whilst supporting their journey to effect progress and impact, and therefore to achieve a Silver award.
  • facilitate a focus on the Institution’s key strategic priorities.
  • facilitate alignment in approaches to addressing gender equity, diversity, and inclusion, and to evidencing impact of initiatives, at Institutional and sub-unit level.

Next steps:

The feedback from workshop participants, outcomes of the UK review, and consultation with Advance HE, will inform the design of the SAGE Athena SWAN awards pathway. The proposed design will be presented to stakeholders at Head of Institution level for final agreement.

The design of the SAGE Athena SWAN awards pathway will be published by end of Quarter 2 2020.

Work in support of developing the SAGE Data Framework will be progressed concurrent with the awards pathway work.