Athena SWAN Bronze award rewards efforts to inspire female scientists

The University of Plymouth has received further recognition for its commitment to supporting women in the sciences after its School of Geography Earth and Environmental Sciences received a Bronze Athena SWAN award.

The award recognises commitment to advancing women’s representation in science, technology, engineering, mathematics and medicine (STEMM) employment in higher education and research.

In order to achieve the award, the school had to complete a wide-reaching application process, which has included reviewing its culture to ensure it supports women to achieve their career ambitions and consider how it supports all its students to best fulfil their potential.

It also had to draw up a comprehensive action plan demonstrating how it plans to build on current efforts for the duration of this award, which runs until April 2020.

Dr Mark Anderson, Head of the School of Geography Earth and Environmental Sciences, said:

“The number of women working in STEMM subjects is a national issue, and any efforts to tackle that have to be encouraged. As a school, we have already taken a number of steps to try and address those challenges, and this award recognises the plans we have to both encourage and support women scientists now and in the future.”

Among the dedicated initiatives which the school has undertaken to encourage more women to consider working in the sciences was a survey of all academic, professional and technical staff as well as PhD students regarding the school’s working culture and support for staff aspirations.

The school organises Girls into Geosciences, an annual event giving A level students an insight into the possibilities available to them in the Earth sciences, and it is now planned to expand this to cover other subjects as well. Gender-related differences in student recruitment, progression and performance have also been examined in some detail and actions developed to address these.

Staff have also been encouraged to complete training in equality and diversity best practice, networking groups have been established to highlight opportunities, and changes have been made to the membership of internal committees to improve diversity in membership, transparency of decision-making and flow of information within the school.

Dr Nicki Whitehouse, Associate Professor (Reader) in Physical Geography and Chair of the Committee who led on the work, added:

“The Athena SWAN award demonstrates our efforts to empower women in the workplace go beyond a commitment to change. The actions we have already taken are making a difference at all levels of the school, inspiring and encouraging future female scientists to see that this is a career where they can succeed. We fully appreciate there is a lot more to do, but this award, and the actions it has identified, will encourage us to build on this success.”