Submission process

The following pages provide information and guidance on preparing Athena SWAN submissions.

What support is available?

Central support

Assigned Contacts

Athena SWAN activity is coordinated by the Equality & Diversity (E&D) Section. A representative from the Equality and Diversity team (Assigned Contact) will sit on all Departmental self-assessment panels to enable ongoing E&D support and provision of guidance for Departments, as well as collecting examples of good practice, identifying key issues, responding to queries, assisting with action planning, and providing expert feedback on draft submissions.

The Assigned contacts are:

Dr Vivien Hodges, WiSETI Project Officer and Athena SWAN Co-ordinator

Kevin Coutinho, E&D and Athena SWAN Consultant

Gina Warren,E&D and Athena SWAN Consultant

Workshops and data surgeries

The Equality & Diversity Section arranges a series of events and workshops with Athena SWAN-related topics. See the Annual Cycle and Events tabs for more details.


A toolkit has been developed by the Equality & Diversity Section to support Departments/Institutions with Athena SWAN activities. The Toolkit provides advice, information and examples of good practice from preparing submissions through to the implementation of the Action Plans outlined in submissions.


WiSETI is a positive action initiative at the University of Cambridge that promotes and supports women from Undergraduate level to Professor, in the Science (including Clinical Sciences), Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) subject areas. WiSETI was established in 1999 and aims to redress an under-representation of women in employment and career progression in these disciplines at the University of Cambridge. WiSETI runs a number of activities, including Cake and Careers, Career Development Seminars and the WiSETI Annual Lecture and supports the Senior Academic Promotions CV Mentoring Scheme. Professor Dame Athene Donald is the Director of WiSETI and the University’s Gender Equality Champion. She is a national advocate for women in STEMM and regularly comments on women in science issues online via her blog and Twitter.

Women's Staff Network (WSN)

The WSN organises events, workshops and other activities to support the personal and professional development of women and raise awareness of gender equality issues.

Senior Gender Equality Network (SGEN)

The SGEN complements the work undertaken centrally by the Gender Equality Group. The network provides a senior profile of active gender equality advocates across all institutions of the University.

Preparing a submission

In order to be successful, applications need to show commitment to the Charter principles and provide specific information relevant to the department/institution. Submissions should reflect the current status of the Department/institution with respect to gender equality and outline plans for the future, including celebrating what the department does well in addition to identifying areas of concern. One of the key aims of Athena SWAN is to facilitate the sharing of good practice across departments and universities.

Submission stages

The submission process falls into the following six stages:

  1. Planning and preparation.
  2. Self-assessment panel and initial analysis.
  3. Departmental analysis and actions.
  4. Draft submission and action plan.
  5. Submission to ECU.
  6. Ongoing actions and subsequent submissions.

How to make a submission

Stage 1: Planning and preparation

Internal guidance

It is essential that Departments notify the E&D team of their intention to apply for an Athena SWAN award as early as possible and at least six months before the submission date (end of April or end of November each year) —see the Annual Cycle tab. E&D Assigned Contact can advise on the level of award to be applied for (Bronze or Silver) and recommend a suitable timescale for submission.

External guidance

The Athena SWAN website has a wide range of information on many aspects of submitting applications. The Awards Handbook and relevant workshops and seminars provide an overview on the format of submissions, expectations around data and action planning, and case studies of exemplar submissions.


Departments/institutions must notify Athena SWAN of their intention to apply two–three months in advance of the deadline. Within the University, Departments are required to notify the WiSETI Project Officer, who then collates and sends all the information to the Equality Challenge Unit.


Applications must be submitted electronically by 5pm on the last working day in April and November, respectively.

Stage 2: Self-assessment panel and initial analysis

The self-assessment panel is made up of academics, research and administrative staff and students as an Assigned Contact from the E&D Section. The panel plays a critical function, overseeing the Athena SWAN application process and monitoring progress against the developed action plan. Terms of Reference for self assessment panels gave been drafted for adaptation by individual departments.

The Cambridge Athena SWAN toolkit as well as centrally available student and staff data is provided to the panel. The E&D Assigned Contact can highlight the areas where local data collection is required.

Stage 3: Departmental analysis and actions

The self-assessment panel are responsible for collecting and reviewing quantitative and qualitative data that are available centrally and locally. The panel should meet regularly to conduct an in-depth analysis of the data on the representation of women in the department/institution, considering trends over time and evidence of good practice. Where patterns of under-representation or areas of concern are identified, appropriate actions should be identified and included in the Action Plan.

Information required includes:

  • Endorsement from the Head of Department.
  • Description of the Self-Assessment Process.
  • Picture of the Department.
  • Evidence of how women's careers are being supported.
  • Action Plan.
  • Case studies (For Silver and Gold only).

The panel should also consider and oversee any additional information/data collection that is required; such as focus groups, interviews or staff surveys and check that the results are a true reflection of life in the Department.

Biannual data surgeries and good practice workshops will be run by the E&D Section to assist departments with data analysis and provide an opportunity to share good practice across Departments with local and national initiatives.

Stage 4: Draft submission and Action Plan

As the data is reviewed and the draft submission developed, Department should concurrently be developing an action plan to address local specific issues. The panel should also refer to the University action plan for relevant initiatives. (See also ‘action planning’ in the Toolkit section.)

Stage 5: Submission to Equality Challenge Unit (ECU)

Submissions must be made in PDF format to in time. Late submissions will not be considered. Departments/institutions wishing their submissions to be considered in colour should, in addition, send ten colour copies, to reach the ECU office (Athena SWAN Charter, Equality Challenge Unit, Queen's House, 55–56 Lincoln's Inn Fields, London WC2A 3LJ) no later than five days after the deadline.

Guidelines for application submission:

  • Applications should consist of one PDF document containing the letter from the VC/HoD, the application and the action plan.
  • This document should be submitted via email to to arrive by no later than 5pm on the deadline date (last working day of April or November).
  • The document should be titled with the name of the institution (and department if appropriate), the level of award applied for and the application round. e.g. ‘UoCambridge-Physics- Gold- Apr13’.
  • The body of the email should also contain the following information:
    • If the application was granted any extra words (if so, the email confirming this should be attached).
    • If hard copies will be submitted (hard copies should be submitted by no later than 7 working days after the deadline date [~one week post submission deadline], and are recommended if your application uses colour images, graphs or charts, as Athena SWAN will only print applications in black and white).
    • Whether the application is a new application or a renewal/upgrade.

Stage 6: Ongoing actions and subsequent submissions

ECU assessment panels, consisting of a member of the ECU Athena SWAN team, Academics, HR/E&D representatives, as well as members of professional bodies meet to consider between 6 and 8 submissions. These national panels may request supplementary information. After approximately five months, departments/institutions will be informed of the outcome and feedback will be provided. A month later an awards ceremony is held.

Departments/institutions should ensure that all commitments made as part of their submissions are fulfilled and that their Action Plans are regularly monitored. It is part of the remit of the Self-Assessment Panel to monitor progress against the Action Plan in order to ensure successful future submissions.

What are the judges looking for?

Judging panels will be informed of any current awards held and/or previous applications made.

Panels take into account a number of general points at all levels of awards:

How well are policies and plans communicated to staff? Would a woman working in the University/department recognise the descriptions in the application?
Senior or high-level commitment
Is it there any? How is it communicated, both to staff and to managers? Does a senior manager take part in policies to improve the representation of women at all levels in SET?
Follow-through of data and statistics
What do these reveal? What actions are being taken to address issues identified and what have the results been/what is expected to change? Is there a clear link between data and actions?
Self-reflection and honesty
The panel accepts that there will be challenges and mistakes may be made, but these need to be recognised openly and steps taken to address them.
Are staff involved in developing policies, implementing them and monitoring and evaluation at all levels?

In reaching a decision on the appropriate level of award, panels will take account of the level applied for and will also consider:

  • The clarity of the evidence provided on what was done and what is planned.
  • The rationale for what was done and what is planned and how they link to the organisation's strategic mission and goals.
  • How successful the actions taken have been, how that success was measured and evaluated, and how they have benefited the organisation and the individual women and men who work in it.
  • The linkage between the data and the action plans.
  • The understanding demonstrated of the institutional context/local circumstances and what the key issues are.
  • The significance of any changes, programmes/initiatives in terms of their anticipated outcomes, their sustainability and the likely longer-term impact on the organisation, its processes and its culture.
  • The level of input, investment, involvement/commitment and support from senior management, heads of department, senior academics and research team leaders (male and female) and women research staff and academics.
  • The extent to which what was developed and introduced was different, innovative or particularly challenging.
  • The organisational ‘fit’, the sustainability of what was developed and the ease with which the change has been or is likely to become embedded in the organisational/departmental culture.
  • The extent to which their activities/programmes/changes have successfully addressed perceptions and expectations which shape or constrain career choices and outcomes.
  • The extent to which the value of what has been done is recognised/welcomed/valued by staff generally, by managers and by women staff.


Consultation with staff and students can provide useful information for Athena SWAN submissions on issues requiring action as well as positive aspects of working of the Department.

Staff surveys

In 2012/13, Biological Sciences and Clinical Medicine undertook School-wide staff surveys. ORC International, a global independent research company, was commissioned by the University to run the surveys and provide benchmarking data from other institutions. The surveys (~80 questions) covered a range of areas including information about individual's jobs, development opportunities, working together, leadership and line management, work-life balance, pay and benefits, inclusion and fair treatment, communication and perceptions of the School. Open comments were also an option. Response rates were 78% and 73% respectively for the two Schools (over 1600 members of staff).

Staff survey results from both Schools have been analysed in detail at a School level and also by departments within each School, by staff group and by gender. The information from these staff surveys has a key role in understanding employee views and opinions, identifying areas for improvement, monitoring diversity and wellbeing practices, and prioritising work plans and strategy. For both the Schools the survey results have provided significant input and enabled clear action plans to be developed as part of their ongoing Athena SWAN submissions.

The experience of running staff surveys will be shared across other Schools within the University.

Other forms of local engagement

Departments may also choose to run a number of other initiatives to engage staff with the Athena SWAN process. These include for example:

  • Focus Groups—these can be used as an opportunity for consultations with staff about a range of specific topics or to target specific groups of staff to address their particular issues.
  • Workshops/seminars for example a WiSETI ‘Cake and Careers’ event for women PhD students and postdocs to hear about career options and to network.
  • Interviews with key members of staff across all staff groups.
  • Posters, newsletters, bulletins highlighting the Athena SWAN initiatives within the Department and across the wider University.


WiSETI has developed a toolkit to support Departments prepare for Athena SWAN submissions.

Data presentation

Top tips

  • Percentages/ratios are best with overall figures also included (context and significance).
  • Present data for men and women in same table/graph.
  • Applications will be considered in black and white (unless colour copies are provided).
  • Clearly annotate graphs with titles, axis labels and legends. The chart should be understandable without reference to text.
  • Avoid too many pages of numbers/tables.
  • Don't make judges work too hard to understand the data.
  • Think carefully about how to present data in order to show key messages.
  • Check to see that your data makes sense -you know your Department best.
  • How do the data compare to the national picture? Comparing your data against others (School, University, National levels) (see section on benchmarking).

Examples include:

Focus on trends and context

  • How do the data vary with time? Show trends over time rather than snapshots.
  • Is the proportion of women increasing?
  • Are success rates for men and women the same?
  • Are the differences significant?
  • Is there a coherent picture?
  • Beware of what is hidden by percentages and avoid over analysis of small numbers.
  • Are there any local factors? (Perhaps all subjects at your HEI have a lower proportion of female undergraduates than the national averages).


Benchmarking is an important component of Athena SWAN submissions which provides context and significance to the proportions of female staff and students in your institution/department. Care should be taken to use relevant benchmarks (similar departments or size of institution).

  • How do the data compare to the national picture?
  • Are the differences significant?
  • Are there any local factors?

Additional sources of benchmarking include:

Action planning

The action plan must have targeted actions, outcome/success measures, and clear responsibilities and timelines covering a three-year period. The national panel will look to see allocation of responsibilities to a range of individuals and committees so allocating most actions to the Self-Assessment Team or one individual should be avoided. Activities are best described as ‘ongoing’ only when this actually is the case.

The action plan is one of the most important parts of the submission. Actions need to be SMART (Specific, Measureable, Achievable, Realistic, Timely).

  • What: Description of action.
  • Who: Responsibility (a named individual).
  • When: Timescale (start and target completion dates).
  • Measurable Success Criteria.

The Department will be expected to report its progress on the actions outlined in the plan at the renewal stage of the award three years later, and will be expected to provide a new three-year action plan. The action plan must be approved by the Head of Department at an early stage and communicated to all relevant members of the Department, particularly if there are resource implications. The action plan can then be used to drive change and report on progress.

Top tips

  • Highlight actions throughout the submission using numbers, shading or bold text.
  • Clearly state progress within the submission not just in the action plan.
  • Consider how University actions can be used to support departmental applications.

Model action plan

University Action Plan, November 2012:

ECU resources

Information on Athena SWAN award holders

Measuring success: an impact report

The ECU and UKRC commissioned a study to understand the effect of Athena SWAN on the number and level of women in STEMM in higher education since its launch in 2005. The report is based on research of the impact of the Charter on individuals, on organisational structures and practices, on culture, and on individuals, including a chapter on ‘continuing challenges’.

Award guidelines

Athena SWAN has published guidance, with relevant templates, an example action plan, application forms and a detailed awards handbook on their website.

Good practice

Examples of good practice are published in the form of selected case studies and previous applications.

Going for Silver workshop (December 2012) provides top tips on data analysis and completing submissions with advice from successful departments


Useful reports

Frequently asked questions

Should my Department/School participate?

If it is a STEMM Department of the University of Cambridge, it is eligible. The WiSETI Project Officer will advise on the benefits of participation.

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 and achievement in the recruitment, retention and promotion of women across the full range of STEMM disciplines, with a majority of Departments holding individual awards; actions should be addressed not only to support Academics and researchers, but also for students and other staff.

Is there guidance available?

Yes, internally from the WiSETI/Athena SWAN team in the E&D Section of the HR Division and externally from the Athena SWAN website.

What data can the Equalities & Diversity Team provide?

The E&D team can provide staff and student data for departmental submissions. This information includes:

  • Staff numbers (including staff group, grade, contract type, full/part time).
  • Maternity/Adoption/Paternity/parental leave.
  • Promotions data.
  • New starters and leavers.
  • HEIDI benchmarking data.
  • Student data (UG and Graduate).

Data that cannot be provided:

  • Flexible working.
  • Membership of committees.
  • Application and recruitment data.

What if the department is small or has low numbers of staff?

The Athena SWAN process is more about using the data to build a picture of a department and inform action planning than an exercise in complex statistical analysis. Therefore while it may not be able to conduct statistical tests on the data, it is likely that there will still be observable trends and patterns. It is not essential to show significance in the SWAN application form.

It is important to consult with staff, run a survey or focus groups to establish how people are experience working in the Department and if there are any issues that need to be resolved. It is crucial to consider the culture of a department in order to make real changes to the barriers faced by women in STEMM, this is not necessarily possible through looking at statistical data. SWAN guidelines state that qualitative data is equally as important.

The other important point to make is that small numbers may mean that individuals may be able to be identified from tables within the application. While this will not be an issue for some of the data provided, it may be for more sensitive staff information such as Senior Academic Promotions data. Therefore, where sensitive staff information presented in a table includes numbers of less than five, it is suggested to either present the information as a proportion by gender or aggregating the data by year/staff category to protect the confidentiality of individuals.

How and when should we start our action plan?

As soon as a Panel begins meeting, possible measures to include in an action plan may be raised. Whilst analysing the data, also think about what actions could be appropriate for any apparent issues.

The action plan included in the submission should start from the cover the three year period following the application. However, do include information on relevant actions that have already been put in place prior to submission, though these will not be part of the action plan.

Should we include academic-related and assistant staff in our Athena SWAN application?

Athena SWAN is a charter for women in academic science. While the panels will be looking for evidence that a department has a positive culture for all staff, the SWAN national panels will be looking for evidence that consideration of relevant issues has been made and put appropriate actions considered to support women's progression through academic science. While it is good to improve working culture for all staff in departments, for an Athena SWAN submission, the majority of actions should be focussed on students and academic staff (academic staff includes researchers, teaching staff and clinical staff).

Should all our actions be gender specific?

The key point is that an action plan must be dependent on the data, the other information known about the department, and what would work best for the department.

The most important thing will be to ensure that any actions meet the needs of staff and students and address any issues that have become apparent through the consideration of qualitative and quantitative information.

In the submission, make the case for what was done, how and why. Keep in mind that Athena SWAN is a charter for women in Science - the application will need to show how actions have supported the recruitment, retention and promotion of women in STEMM, but good practice will benefit all staff.

Some of the issues that our female staff have identified can only be resolved at the University level—what can be done by the department to address these?

While there may be some issues raised that a department may have no control over (such as HR family friendly policies or the number of Established posts within a department), the culture of a department can be influenced through other means. For example adopting a policy to hold meetings within core hours, or ensuring that any selection or appointment panels include members of both genders may help to redress perceived or real barriers.

If any issues arise that should be addressed at a central level, these can be directed to the Equality and Diversity team who could direct them to the University's Gender Equality Group.