Development of the UK Athena Swan Charter and Advance HE’s new strategy: Update from Advance HE Chief Executive Alison Johns

Headshot of Advance HE Chief Executive, Alison Johns
Advance HE Chief Executive, Alison Johns

When Advance HE was formed in 2018, one of the first decisions we took was to commission an independent review of the UK Athena Swan Charter. Our motivation in establishing the independent review was for the great strides that have been made in gender equality in the UK to be accelerated through an even more effective, engaging and pragmatic Charter.  

The findings of the Independent Review Steering Group, who consulted widely with the sector in the UK, offered insight and observations – and, of course, recommendations – which provided us with guidance to develop both the Charter’s framework and processes. 

The Charter has evolved several times over its 16-year existence and this updated version was launched on 30 June 2021. The new Charter framework and processes take forward the recommendations of the Independent Review bringing about: 

  • Greater autonomy and flexibility
  • A reduction in administrative burden, including a reduction of data requirements
  • Advance HE moving from assessment or judging, to a developmental and supporting approach. 

These changes will be launched for Athena Swan in the UK only but we will continue to work and engage closely with SAGE to share our learning from this process of co-creation. We will also continue to take the opportunity to learn from SAGE’s successful practice and we look forward to supporting the new Cygnet Awards.

Advance HE and SAGE will work collectively to enable Athena Swan to support progress in gender equality in the higher education and research sector in an increasingly international context, enabling the development of a Charter that is truly globally comparable, yet locally contextual.

Advance HE’s strategy

Alongside the developments around the UK Athena Swan Charter, Advance HE staff and Board have been working on our new Strategy to 2024 which was shared last month. We are proud to have a distinctive role helping higher education and research be the best it can be and through our convening role and our track record supporting leadership and effective governance, tackling inequalities and in enhancing teaching and learning, our membership continues to grow as does our reach and impact.

Our new strategy highlights both our purpose: we help higher education be the best it can be – and our vision: higher education providers and systems that are inclusive, sustainable and high-performing in all they do. 

To frame our work, we have developed three strategic goals which are underpinned by six commitments.  Commitment 3 – “Drive progress in equality, diversity and inclusion” – states that we will determine the potential to deliver an integrated equalities charter respecting the diversity of members and their contexts.   

We would like to assure the SAGE community that the next three years will very much be about exploration and consultation around what an integrated equalities charter might look like and that throughout this process, we will continue to engage closely with the CEO of SAGE and the SAGE team so that you as Athena Swan members and award holders will be kept up to date with the findings.