ATHENA SWAN AWARD INTERVIEW
Will you please tell us more about the Athena Swan award?
The advance HE’s Athena Swan Charter was established in 2005 to encourage and recognise commitment to advancing the careers of woman in science, technology, engineering, maths and medicine (STEMM) employment, higher education and research.
Since 2015 the Charter also recognises work in arts, humanities, social sciences, business and law. (AHSSBL). This includes work done in professional and support roles, trans staff and students. The charter recognises work undertaken to address gender equality broadly, not only barriers to progression affecting woman. The award acknowledges work done in relation to representation, progression into academia, career milestones and the working environment for all staff. It celebrates gender equality now more broadly. It is a national accreditation.
What was the award for in particular?
Brunel Law school received the Athena Swan Bronze Award in recognition for its commitment to gender equality. Law is the first CBASS Department to be awarded this distinction. I led the submission and it is valid until April 2023. We applied in April 2014. It is quite unique.
Once the Institution as a whole has an award then separate departments can apply.
Several department s in STEM got the Athena Swan award but when it was time for non-STEM departments to apply, I encouraged them to apply. Since Dr Reisberg joined Brunel University and the Law department became independent in August 2017, I spoke to the head of department and suggested it would be a great opportunity for the Law department to show their strength. We do have gender balance here and we take steps to respect and improve that. He took it really well, so we started celebrating woman in law back in October 2017. We launched officially. It was a public event involving all of Hillingdon, to show our commitment to apply fort this award.
This award is for all areas except scientific ones. We noticed there is a problem as well, looking at Leadership positions, woman was lacking. So, we thought, ok, it’s not about scientific subjects, but non-science subjects as well that we need to address. Therefor in May 2015 we actually included law. Woman are lacking in leadership positions.
We applied using the online form, we addressed the 35 issues and then there is an action plan we are working with. This is an ongoing work in progress project. We always apply for renewal.
We have an action plan. This is an ongoing award and we always apply for renewal of the award. We plan to improve students, staff and the culture of the department. The Vice Chancellor encouraged our application. In Law we called in the help from Jenny Cook, a Data Analyst from the Equality and Diversity office. We had three different sets of data, and the data was not accurate, we really had to work with that. We needed evidence obviously.
I could actually see how working groups were formed. How people worked together to achieve this. As associate dean I initiated in CBASS for two departments to apply for the award. Back then Law was part of Politics and History.
What is your current role in the legal profession?
I am the Athena Swan lead for the department. At University level I am the Aurora champion for woman. I am responsible for the woman leadership programme. I led the Law Society team. I was part of SAT, (Self- assessment team) the University application process.
What difficulties have you experienced as a female legal professional working in the legal profession?
Personally, for me, I think woman have a more caring responsibilities, that is my observation. There is always a work - life balance struggle. It has not come very easily. I have two children and I do not have any family support. It makes it a bit hard. It is challenging. I compensate for working hours and work in the evenings and weekends. This is perhaps not very suitable for family life. But I can also spend time with my children and attend their assemblies at school. For us to address that we have applicant’s days, open days, and Saturdays. The Law school made a decision that woman with childcare responsibilities do not have to attend those days on the rota. At University level, female students are performing better than the men, they score higher grades in their coursework and examinations. However ,at partner level it is clear domination by men.
What has been done at Brunel University law department to assist woman to progress into senior roles?
Our department has created the Athena Swan page. At the moment some of the information is still confidential, but in future it will be published in a non-confidential copy. I have conducted workshops for woman in law. In the past extensions of deadlines were granted for woman with caring responsibilities towards young children and the elderly. There used to be a Nursery on campus for staff and students with young children, but this became unsustainable. We address the childcare issue. I recruited student representatives that forms working groups that will address our 35 action points within the next three years. We incorporate scholars in all areas and students read different approaches. We find students from second year, Masters and PHD programmes to be involved with this, as third year students are usually too busy. We do not use quotas but make decisions based on merits. We are working towards securing more funding and improving the recruitment data. Everything is possible.
What Changes has the Athena Swan award programme brought about at Brunel?
It is too early to reflect on that at the moment. To evaluate data and progress you need a longer time period. I think it would be good to see progress when we apply for renewal of our reward. In Law there has always been more female compared to male students. We are addressing that now compared to the industry where it is 68% female students and 32% male students. We are higher than the industry level at 70% female students. What we proved or improved is that we have more woman at professorial level . At one point in time there were only one female professor whereas now it is at a balance of 50-50. We have a huge improvement of staff at Professorial level. Geographically we have more woman. Perhaps men are going to more Russell group Universities. Statistics requires proper empirical research.
What challenges have you overcome?
The first time an application is made for the Athena Swan bronze award, you don’t need to show impact. You show the picture how it is right now, for example if you take any actions which we have to improve, like including more diversity in the curriculum, the reading lists, how to incorporate scholars from different backgrounds to show different approaches, and it depends on subject areas and showing more gender balance at is important students get the opportunity to read different approaches, genders seems to address things differently. We also try to incorporate ethnicity.
We always look for student representation, so we do have right now working groups to address our 35 action points spread over 3 years. Students graduate and we need new students to join us. I need to confirm that we do not have any quotas for woman, as there were a lot of enquiries after the Lady Arden evening. Our decisions are made on merit. We encourage students to join us.
We are looking at our panel to be representative.
I am waiting at the moment for the Institution to receive the silver award, perhaps in a few years’ time we can show that. We only received our independence as a department in August 2017.
The only other University in London who received the AS bronze award for their Law department is Kings College’s Dickson Poon school of law.