Women with microscope

Gender equity and the underrepresentation of women and men in different disciplines is an ongoing challenge in higher education 

Research and data show us that women remain underrepresented at senior levels in higher education generally, and there is a notably lower female presence in science, technology, engineering, mathematics and medicine (STEMM) subjects in particular. High numbers nationally tend to leave academic and research roles in arts, humanities, social science, business, law (AHSSBL) as well as more general professional and support roles at universities. We want to change that, and that is why we are long- standing members of the Athena Swan charter mark.

About Athena Swan

The is a national initiative that recognises commitment to advancing women's representation and tackling gender inequality in higher education and research. Originally designed to target improvement for women within science, technology, engineering, mathematics and medicine (STEMM) subjects and senior positions, it has now been extended to include arts, humanities, social science, business and law (AHSSBL), as well as professional and support roles, and for trans staff and students. Universities and institutions that can prove they are committed to the advancement and promotion of women in STEMM, AHSSBL and support services can apply for membership. As an institution, we have been a member of the Athena Swan charter mark since 2009.

Dr Gail Rees, Acting Deputy Head of the School of Biomedical and Healthcare Sciences

Athena Swan principles

Established in 2005 to encourage and recognise commitment to advancing the careers of women in science, technology, engineering, maths and medicine (STEMM) employment, the Athena Swan Charter is now being used across the globe to address gender equality more broadly, and not just barriers to progression that affect women.
The Athena Swan Charter is based on eight key principles. By being part of Athena Swan, we are committing to a progressive charter, adopting these principles within our policies, practices, action plans and culture. The following principles underpin the work that we are doing and the reflective framework we use to review the impact of our work in higher education in relation to gender equality.
  • Adopting robust, transparent and accountable processes for gender equality work, including:
    • embedding diversity, equity and inclusion in our culture, decision-making and partnerships, and holding ourselves and others in our institution/institute/department accountable.
    • undertaking evidence-based, transparent self-assessment processes to direct our priorities and interventions for gender equality and evaluating our progress to inform our continuous development.
    • ensuring that gender equality work is distributed appropriately, is recognised and properly rewarded.
  • Addressing structural inequalities and social injustices that manifest as differential experiences and outcomes for staff and students.
  • Tackling behaviours and cultures that detract from the safety and collegiality of our work and study environments, including not tolerating gender-based violence, discrimination, bullying, harassment, or exploitation.
  • Understanding and addressing intersectional inequalities.
  • Recognising that individuals can determine their own gender identity, and tackling the specific issues faced by trans and non-binary people.
  • Examining gendered occupational segregation, and elevating the status, voice and career opportunities of any identified under-valued and at-risk groups.
  • Mitigating the gendered impact of caring responsibilities and career breaks and supporting flexibility and the maintenance of a healthy ‘whole life balance’.
  • Mitigating the gendered impact of short-term and casual contracts for staff seeking sustainable careers.

Athena Swan at the University of Plymouth

The University became a member of the Athena Swan Charter in 2009, holding an institutional Bronze level award until March 2024 when we achieved a Silver award.
All Schools now hold Athena Swan awards at either Bronze or Silver level, and we will continue our work to tackle gender inequality and under-representation through our Athena Swan submissions.
Staff from PU PSMD receiving the Athena Swan award