Athena SWAN

Frequently asked questions

What does Athena SWAN mean?

The Athena Forum was set up by the Royal Institute in 1999 to help Universities work towards gender equality and good practice. The idea of a charter came out of the SWAN - Scientific Women’s Academic Network. The Athena SWAN Charter was launched in 2005 and since then over 65 Universities have joined the Charter.

Is Athena SWAN only relevant for women?

No.  Certain cultural issues and bad practice currently disadvantage women, but good practice benefits everyone. For example, flexible working policies do not just benefit working mothers, they will also support fathers and carers as well as the social lives, productivity and wellbeing of all staff.

Will this be an ongoing process?

Yes. Subject Disciplines are currently working towards applying for a silver award. Once the majority of STEM/M subjects have achieved a silver award, the University can then apply for a silver award. After that, subject disciplines will be looking towards applying for gold.

The process doesn’t stop once an award has been achieved. Every 3 years the University or discipline has to apply for re-accreditation, providing evidence that they are still upholding the charter’s principles, and that they are developing and building on their initiatives, policies and practices to support the career development of female staff.

Does the University see women as needing ‘special help’?

It has been recognised that female academics are not progressing within academic careers. This does not mean that women are not able, willing or ambitious enough to progress within academia, but rather that there are structural and cultural issues that either prevent or deter women from staying within academic careers. The focus of Athena SWAN, and the University of Exeter is to understand, challenge and change these factors in order to support the career development of women.