Gender equity in education
The Athena SWAN Institutional Bronze Award is given to those who demonstrate a commitment to improving gender bias in STEMM. Source: Shutterstock

Gender bias in a long-standing and complex problem in academia with very serious consequences. Some progress has been made – Maryam Mirzakhani became the first woman to win the Fields Medal in 2017 and representation is slowly increasing – but a lot more still needs to be done.

A proven way for institutions to achieve gender equity is through the Athena SWAN accreditation. This week, thirteen Australian institutions were awarded the Athena SWAN Institutional Bronze Award, which recognises an institution’s commitment to advancing the careers of women, trans and gender diverse individuals in STEMM disciplines in Higher Education and Research.

The award is part of the Science in Australia Gender Equity (SAGE) initiative and an adaptation of the  Athena SWAN model for Australia.

“The Bronze Award recognises an institution’s work to set solid foundations for their journey to transformative change; it sets them on the course to Silver and Gold awards,” said Dr Wafa El-Adhami, Executive Director for SAGE.

The Australian National University, RMIT, Deakin University, La Trobe University and Sydney University are some of the award’s recipients.

RMIT’s Pro Vice-Chancellor of Science, Engineering and Health, along with Vice-President, Professor Peter Coloe, said: “We’ve seen in other countries that Athena SWAN can be a powerful mechanism for helping drive changes in gender equity.

“This process has allowed us to really shine a light on the opportunities available to women in STEMM and then enabled RMIT to develop a clear path forward for addressing any inequities that the light revealed.”

The Minister for Industry, Science and Technology, Karen Andrews, said “the government is committed to increasing the number of women in STEM, and our universities and institutions must be at the forefront when it comes to setting an example.”

The award shows these institutions understand the current state of gender equity in STEMM disciplines, as well as the institutional structures, systems, and culture which contribute to it. They have also demonstrated a four-year action plan to address this.

Dr Michael Spence, Vice-Chancellor and Principal for the University of Sydney, said: “Receiving the Bronze Award is a fantastic achievement for the University and demonstrates our commitment to changing our culture so that every person is valued for the contribution they make to our collective success.

“The critical reflection we had to undertake to develop our application and embed Athena SWAN principles has been a real catalyst for change. It has also improved our understanding of equity, diversity, and inclusion issues in the University.”

The 13 institutions awarded form the second cohort of SAGE member institutions from the higher education and research sector to complete the Athena SWAN Institutional Bronze process. They join an initial group of 15 institutions that were recognised last December.

Established in 2005, the Athena SWAN charter seeks to encourage and recognise commitment to advancing the careers of women in science, technology, engineering, maths and medicine (STEMM) employment in higher education and research. Its framework addresses system and structural barriers, as well as culture, that hinder participation and advancement of women and minority groups in organisations.

It is the most comprehensive and practical scheme to improve academics’ careers by addressing gender inequity, a UK Parliament Science and Technology Committee report found. According to another independent evaluation, female scientists at accreditated institutions also reported higher career satisfaction and fairness in the workload allocation, as well as increased opportunities for training and development.

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