Between April 2003 and April 2004 funding from the Office of Science and Technology, Department of Trade and Industry (DTI) enabled the Athena Project to follow up progress by Higher Education Institutes (HEIs) who had previously contributed to Athena’s success, to establish contact with HEIs ‘new’ to Athena, to identify and write up new good practice case studies and develop a good practice checklist.

The examples of good practice referred to below are all available as reports and case studies on the Athena Website.

Athena is grateful to the 28 HEIs who contributed to the development of the checklist and piloted its use during 2003( the contributors are listed at the end of this report). The checklist covered the areas identified by Athena as key to career progression in Science, Engineering and Technology (SET):
Personal and professional support and development - Mentoring and Networking
Career progression, appointments and promotion
Changing the organisational culture

The support from DTI was invaluable. HEIs were attracted by the opportunity to contribute to a report for presentation to the DTI and in having their good practice disseminated within the SET and HE communities. In April 2003 when the DTI programme started Athena was in contact with 38 HEIs, by December 2003 Athena had formal ‘contacts’ with over 50 HEIs ( a number which has increased as a result of Athena’s work in 2004)

The Athena Project

When the Athena Project was launched in February 1999 it was a free-standing four year initiative funded by the UK HE funding councils and the DTI. In April 2001 it became part of the Equality Challenge Unit (ECU), which promotes equal opportunities for all those who are employed or seek to be employed in UK Higher Education. In November 2003 the Athena Project moved to the Royal Society, where it continues to work in partnership with the ECU.
To achieve its aims ‘the advancement of women in science engineering and technology (SET) in higher education and research and a significant increase in the number of women recruited to the top posts’ Athena works with partner universities to develop, share, encourage and disseminate good practice and to increase the number of women working in SET at all levels and to improve the career development, recruitment, participation, progression and promotion of women in SET.

The Good Practice Check list

The good practice checklist developed for this initiative was further developed during 2004 and was used as the initial collection tool in the joint Athena and Royal Society of Chemistry initiative to identify and disseminate information on good practice in academic chemistry departments and to provide a baseline against which future progress can be measured. The report published in December 2004 proposes key performance indicators for departments and provides for them a basis for local action agendas.

At the end of 2004 the checklist, revised to take account of the two pilots, was completed by the SET employers in HE and in research who participated in Athena’s second Athena Survey of Science, Engineering and Technology (ASSET) survey. The checklist is now being further adapted to provide a self assessment tool for the Athena SWAN Charter Initiative which will be launched in summer 2005.

The methodology

28 universities completed the checklists. They were followed up by telephone. This provided the opportunity to discuss the value of the checklist and how the universities had used it. Universities’ comments ranged from generally favourable to the enthusiastic. The examples of good practice provided in the checklists and the links to Athena reports on the website were welcomed. They were described as practical, useful, valuable. Several universities referred to the future use they would make of various of the Athena reports, as they defined and agreed their priorities for action. Many comments were along the lines –

  • it showed us how far we had got, what we had achieved and how far we had to go, where the gaps were,
  • it pointed up the issues on which to focus as we got started
  • it will be useful to go back in future years to see what progress we have made
  • it was a useful prompt for the Opportunity Now benchmarking exercise which came in shortly afterwards.
  • Others used the checklist to open up discussion and sent their check lists though to senior managers /university committees to sign them off before submission.

Analysis of SET Good Practice In 28 UK HEIs at the end of 2003

The following is based on the analysis of the checklists returned at the end of 2003 by 28 HEIs among them:

  • 8 Russell Group Universities
  • 7 94 Group Universities
  • 6 Post 1992 Universities
  • 8 Universities which had not previously worked with Athena
  • 1 Welsh University
  • 4 Scottish Universities
  • 2 Northern Ireland Universities

Personal and professional support and development - Mentoring

25 HEIs completed this section of the checklist. Most of them provided mentoring as part of their probation/induction procedures. In some cases the term mentoring was applied to the relationship between a newly appointed lecturer and their supervisor/manager.

Career development mentoring was less common, as was mentoring for specific purposes, eg entrepreneurship or promotion.

Mentoring was generally not well resourced/managed, however, where it was built into probation / induction this was not seen as a problem.

The real issue in mentoring was time.

Mentoring was often informal which made it difficult to evaluate

  • 19 HEIs provided mentoring for specific groups on an established basis, 7 were either considering its introduction/ running a pilot
  • 13 HEIs took care in the selection of mentors, 9 provided them with training and support
  • 12 HEIs took care in matching mentee with mentors and 8 prepared mentees before the relationship started, 6 HEIs formalised the mentoring relationship, in 19 HEIs mentees were also part of a network
  • 5 HEIs had management commitment, 9 reported adequate resourcing/funding, 6 provided administrative support, 5 provided a manager/director for their scheme, 6 reported having a mentoring champion or senior committee responsible for their scheme
  • 6 HEIs evaluated their mentoring, 4 of whom also evaluated the impact on the HEI as well as the mentors and mentees

Personal and professional support and development - Networking

27 HEIs completed this section of the checklist. A number of the networks reported had developed out of Springboard programmes as well as from Athena initiatives.

The networks and their activities were often self-directed, depending on the drive, energy and time availability of their members.

Sometimes little was known about the networks ‘centrally’ and their periods of real activity tended to be short lived. This did not necessarily detract from the value of the support they offered their members, but did limit their ability to engage with management.

  • 13 HEIs had established and 6 had pilot networks, all the pilots and 10 of the established networks had clear short term objectives
  • all 6 pilots and 8 of the established networks had active programmes, all of which were designed by their members, the majority featured role models
  • 3 HEIs reported that their networks had significant achievements which they communicated internally /externally
  • 6 HEIs networks had a formal structure, budget and administrative support
  • 8 established and 3 pilots has senior academic or university management support

Career progression, appointments and promotion

The majority of the 27 HEIs which completed this section of the checklist were content that their procedures and criteria for appointments and promotions were fair. However, most of them recognised that the perceptions of their staff would differ.

Generally HEIs did not consider the percentage representation of women in the ‘pools’ from which they promoted and recruited, nor did they all monitor women’s representation rates at each stage of the appointment and promotions processes.

Most of the HEIs who had targets on women’s representation for new appointments had introduced them as part of their HEFCE funded HR strategies.

  • 16 HEIs were taking action and 10 were discussing /reviewing their requirements on career progression / to improve women’s progress in SET careers
  • 15 HEIs had undertaken surveys on career progression, including ASSET, 11 reported taking action on the results
  • 12 HEIs encouraged/ supported/ targeted women /under- represented groups to apply for appointments and 5 provided support for women considering promotion
  • 8 HEIs had targets on women’s representation for new appointments, 5 were considering their introduction and 7 had targets for women’s representation in the promotion process
  • 16 HEIs reported on promotion to their governing body/ heads of department and 18 reported on promotions

Changing the organisation and culture

Whereas the majority of 27 HEIs which completed this section of the checklist confirmed leadership from the top on changing the organisation and culture of SET in HE, only a minority of HEIs agreed that the key stakeholders – heads of departments and Principal Investigators - were involved in change and/or required heads of departments to promote career development and support a culture of inclusivity.

The almost universal response from HEIs was that the situation in departments was patchy.

At the corporate and policy making level, HEIs believed they were ‘getting it right’ but were not able to guarantee what happened in departments.

HEIs took a generally cautious view of perceptions at practitioner level.

  • The majority of HEIs had action programmes driven by a ‘committee’ which linked into their main management structure, were in a position to drive action forward and had the clear commitment/ leadership of the Vice Chancellor/Deans
  • 12 HEIs involved stakeholders eg HODs in their programmes for change and 15 required HODs to promote good practice and support the career development of under represented groups and 9 confirmed that their departments encourages a culture of inclusivity
  • 14 HEIs took account of the representation of women, differences in communication styles/levels of confidence in relation to committee membership and operation
  • 11 HEIs ensured that responsibilities were allocated at ‘departmental’ level to take account of individuals’ development needs

The HEIs who contributed to the development of the checklist and submitted returns

  • The Robert Gordon University, Aberdeen
  • The University of Wales, Aberystwyth
  • The University of Bath
  • The University of Bolton
  • University of Bradford
  • Bristol University
  • The University of Cambridge
  • City University, London
  • Cranfield University
  • The University of Durham
  • The University of Edinburgh
  • The University of Glasgow
  • Heriot-Watt University, Edinburgh
  • Imperial College, London
  • Leeds Metropolitan Universtiy
  • Loughborough University
  • The University of Luton
  • The University of Manchester - UMIST
  • Northumbria University
  • The University of Oxford
  • The University of Plymouth
  • The University of Reading
  • Royal Holloway, University of London
  • The University of Southampton
  • The University of Strathclyde, Glasgow
  • University of Sunderland
  • University of Surrey, Guildford
  • University of Sussex