Introduction to Athena SWAN in Cornwall

Brendan Godley

I became Head of Department in August 2014 but started my teaching career here a decade ago when the campus first opened. As a parent of young children with a female partner who is an Associate Professor in the department, I have carefully observed the inception and subsequent mainstreaming of our Athena SWAN process and the profound positive changes that have resulted since our Bronze and Silver award (awarded in 2013 and 2015).

  • The data: our pipeline data give an excellent overview of how gender balance has improved. For Biosciences, there have been marked shifts at Associate Lecturer/ Associate Research Fellow grades and beyond. For Geography, although gender differences were less marked, there has still been progress at the higher career stages for women.
  • The process: The department has dedicated over 500 hours to Athena SWAN panel meetings, focus groups and our application. We appointed an Athena SWAN champion (2014; Prof Stuart Bearhop) who serves as part of the CLES Cornwall Management Group and staff and students have demonstrated their commitment (see Athena SWAN video by students 2014). As evidenced by our recent staff questionnaire, awareness of the initiative and process is very high (95% of 120 respondents are aware of the Charter).
  • Actions regarding recruitment and promotion of women in the department: We now ensure gender balance on all interview panels on which all staff must have undertaken Recruitment & Selection training (2013/14). All staff are considered automatically for promotion annually. Key training has been enhanced and mainstreamed: promotion workshop (2013), Springboard (2013/14 and 14/15), WISE Cornwall renamed ECR network (2014).
  • Actions regarding on-going employment of women: We have core hours (10-4pm) for meetings. We have instigated a series of actions around staff going on maternity leave. For their period of absence, a bespoke replacement is recruited and retained to cover their first term of teaching, so that when they return, research academics are given a period of study leave to allow them to rebuild research momentum. For teaching academics, we ensure that they retain the same portfolio of teaching to minimise effort of reintegration. For female ECRs and postgraduate students, we sponsor a training course to empower and enhance them during their reintegration.
  • A broad scale change culture: In addition to these process changes, what I have witnessed has been a cultural transformation across the department. Behaviour in staff meetings has changed with strident overspeaking almost eradicated and a deep appreciation of the need to counter unintentional bias and facilitate engagement from all stakeholders. Decision-making is more inclusive, deliberative and democratic. The Athena SWAN Charter is a standing item in all management group/staff meetings.

Athena SWAN offers us a real opportunity to promote career development and an improved working environment for all of our female staff and students. We will build our extant achievements and keep Athena SWAN at our core, ensuring that we are not complacent about outstanding issues.

Brendan Godley
Professor of Conservation Science