Athena SWAN

Athena SWAN is a national scheme to promote women's careers in science, technology, engineering, maths and medicine (STEMM). As a founder member and institutional award holder, the University is actively engaged in promoting the principles of the Athena SWAN Charter and encourages eligible Departments to participate in this important initiative. Nationally, there are over 90 member institutions, including 23 of the 24 Russell Group Universities. These pages give an overview of Athena SWAN, provide information on its benefits, highlight successful University of Cambridge awards and guide interested Departments through the application process.

The University's strong commitment to Athena SWAN and progressing gender equality is clearly demonstrated at the highest level by the Vice-Chancellor:

My interest in the Athena SWAN Charter began during my tenure as Deputy Rector at Imperial College London and has continued at the University of Cambridge, as a member of the University's self-assessment panel and the forthcoming Governance Panel. I will continue to be a vocal advocate for Athena SWAN both as the Vice-Chancellor of a leading UK University and as part of the League of European Research Universities' (LERU) commitment to the promotion of gender diversity.

—Professor Sir Leszek Borysiewicz, Vice-Chancellor, November 2012

What is Athena SWAN?

Introduction to Athena SWAN

Athena SWAN is a Charter to advance women's careers in STEMM subjects (science, technology, engineering, maths and medicine). Its Bronze, Silver and Gold awards celebrate good practice in recruiting, retaining and promoting women in those subject areas within Higher Education.

The scheme is managed by the Equality Challenge Unit (ECU), and is funded by ECU, the Research Councils UK (RCUK), the Royal Society, the Biochemical Society and the Department of Health. The Charter evolved from work between the Athena Project and the Scientific Women's Academic Network (SWAN) and was launched in June 2005 at the Institute of Physics. The membership has steadily grown since then, and so has the number of award holders.

Nationally, Athena SWAN activity has significantly increased following the link between Athena SWAN awards and research funding. In 2011, the Chief Medical Officer announced that the National Institute for Health Research would only expect to shortlist medical schools for biomedical research centre and unit funding if the school holds a Silver Athena SWAN award. In January 2013, the Research Councils UK (RCUK) unveiled its new Statement of Expectations for Equality and Diversity, expecting those in receipt of Research Council funding to provide evidence of commitment to equality and diversity with participation in Athena SWAN specifically mentioned as one piece of such evidence. It may be expected that other funders (such as the Royal Society and charities) will follow suit.


The Charter has six principles at its core, the benefits of which include retention of highly valued female staff, access to a network of contacts, and external recognition of positive action already taken.

Athena SWAN Award holders

At August 2013, there are 90 member institutions signed up to the Athena SWAN charter, holding a total of 176 awards at bronze, silver and gold levels. The number of applications nationally has significantly increased with 96 submissions in November 2012 and 112 in April 2013 (compared to 25 awards granted in April 2012).

Athena SWAN at Cambridge

Professor Jane Clarke (Department of Chemistry) receiving the University's Award from Dame Julia HigginsThe University of Cambridge was a founder member of Athena SWAN Charter and the University won its first award in the inaugural round of March 2006.

Since then, the University has successfully renewed its Bronze Athena SWAN award in 2009 and 2012.

Renewal of the University's Bronze award

The University of Cambridge successfully renewed its Bronze award in 2012.

As Chair of the University's Athena SWAN Governance Panel I am delighted that the University's Bronze Award has been successfully renewed. The award recognises that progressing gender equality is a key priority for us, leading to a substantial commitment of staff and resources to ensure engagement with Athena SWAN principles across departments, faculties and institutes. We are working hard to ensure that women are well represented at the most senior levels of the University, and that women across the whole University are supported and encouraged to achieve their potential. I am particularly proud of the development of our Senor Gender Equality Network to support the exceptional work of the Gender Equality Champion, and the success of a pilot fund to support returning carers, which I hope will reap dividends for both individuals and the University in the future.

—Professor Jeremy Sanders, Pro-Vice-Chancellor for Institutional Affairs, April 2013

Introduction to WiSETI and Athena SWAN

WiSETI is an initiative at the University of Cambridge that promotes women in science, engineering and technology. Established in 1999, it was the driving force behind the University becoming a member of the Athena SWAN scheme and continues to oversee the management of activities supporting women in the STEMM subject areas.

Both WiSETI and centrally provided Athena SWAN activities are part of the University's Equality & Diversity Section.

For more information, contact Dr Vivien Hodges, the WiSETI Project Officer and University Athena SWAN coordinator.


The Athena SWAN Governance Panel oversees the strategic direction and implementation of Athena SWAN charter principles and related practices within the University, including the progress of departmental Athena SWAN submissions. The Governance Panel, which meets termly, brings together key expertise and representatives from across the 6 University Schools and Human Resources. The WiSETI (Women in Science, Engineering and Technology Initiative) project promotes and co-ordinates Athena SWAN activities across the University. An Athena SWAN Working Group supports the Athena SWAN Governance Panel.

The Vice Chancellor has confirmed his strong commitment to gender equality and supports the University's goal to attain a Silver University Athena SWAN Award within the next few years. To achieve this goal, we need to show a significant record of activity across the full range of STEMM disciplines, with a majority of Departments holding individual awards.

Athena SWAN Governance Panel


Appointments to 31 December 2014.

  • Professor Sir Leszek Borysiewicz (Vice-Chancellor).
  • Professor Jeremy Sanders, P-V-C for Institutional Affairs (Chair).
  • Dr Abir Al-Tabbaa, School of Technology.
  • Professor Dame Athene Donald, WiSETI Director, Gender Equality Champion.
  • Professor Anne Ferguson-Smith, School of Biological Sciences.
  • Professor Fiona Karet, School of Clinical Medicine.
  • David Peet, School of Physical Sciences.
  • Professor Judith Lieu, School of Arts and Humanities.
  • Professor John Bell, School of Humanities and Social Sciences.

Ex officio

  • Indi Seehra, Director of Human Resources.
  • Dr Vivien Hodges, WiSETI Project Officer (Secretary).

Key initiatives supporting Athena SWAN at the University of Cambridge

Returning Carers Fund

In July 2013, the University launched a Scheme to support research and academic staff rebuilding their research activity and profile after a break for caring responsibilities. Examples include ‘buying out’ teaching and administrative duties for a period of time, funding conference attendance, research/technical support or assistance in grant writing.

Development workshops for women

The Gender Equality Champion hosted a series of consultations for women across the University in 2012. To address a number of the themes identified during these consultations, a series of workshops took place during January–March 2013. The ‘New Perspectives for Women’ series of 10 workshops was delivered by experienced external consultants to address four topics: Confident Ways of Working; Furthering Your Career; Gaining Recognition at Work; and Making Connections. Two of the four themes (Confident Ways of Working and Furthering Your Career) were delivered to targeted groups of staff (Lecturers/Senior Lecturers; Researchers; Academic-related and Assistant staff). The series was run in central locations and on the Addenbrookes site at or around lunchtimes.


Senior Academic Promotions CV Scheme and Open Fora

The SAP CV Scheme is a positive action initiative that aims to encourage more women to apply for senior roles, brings together Lecturers, Senior Lecturers and Readers who are thinking of applying for promotion, with senior academics who have extensive experience of the University's SAP procedures. The Scheme was highlighted in a series of Open Fora hosted by the Pro-Vice-Chancellor for Institutional Affairs, Professor Jeremy Sanders, One participant commented: ‘There are some rumours and misconceptions about promotion and it was great to hear first hand what is ahead of me. It made me feel that the process will be less daunting than I feared.’

Register your interest in the SAP CV Scheme with Manaz Javaid (

Women of Cambridge book

What makes a successful woman at Cambridge? How should we judge success? And who would you nominate as a role model? A publication and website will be launched in March 2014 to highlight and explore different meanings of success and excellence and celebrate women achievers from across the University.

Senior Gender Equality Network (SGEN)

The Vice-Chancellor discussing the challenges of progressing gender equality at an SGEN event (June 2013), with Jane Clarke (Athena SWAN Academic lead), Professor Dame Athene Donald (Gender Equality Champion) and Jo Bostock (Pause Consultancy)In 2012 the Gender Equality Champion initiated the Senior Gender Equality Network (SGEN) which was formally launched by the Vice-Chancellor in May. SGEN brings together senior members of the University, from across both its academic and administrative functions, to support the advancement of gender equality. The network provides a senior profile across the schools, divisions and departments of active gender equality advocates to complement the work undertaken centrally by the University through the Gender Equality Group, chaired by Professor Dame Athene Donald, and the Equality & Diversity Committee. In 2013, SGEN members have identified priority areas for further action to progress gender equality.

Departmental awards

The figure below lists all of the eligible departments and where departments have pages or awards: