The Athena SWAN charter was launched in 2005 to address gender inequality in higher education, where nine out of ten pay the average male employee more than the average female, while more professorial and senior positions are held by men. It recognises those institutions that address this via an in-depth, data-driven investigation of their policies, practices and the real-world impact they are having.
The Open University has embedded the ethos of the charter across the institution - the largest in the UK with over 5,000 staff and nearly 130,000 students. It gained Athena SWAN recognition in 2013 and has maintained the award ever since, using data collected on its hiring, promotions, tenure, committees, mentoring, etc, combined with qualitative data from staff and students to track the issues they encounter.
Action plans are built from the outputs of this analysis which have included unconscious bias training for staff, adopting gender neutral language on websites, ensuring diversity in role models, adjusting hiring practices to attract more female candidates and introducing mentoring programmes. These have served to ingrain diversity and equality at every level of the OU’s culture from top to bottom.
The university’s strategy now includes the Athena SWAN objective of “fostering a dynamic and inclusive culture”, with its principles written into the equality, diversity and inclusion, as well as the wellbeing strategies. In consequence, 60.7% of staff, 50% of students and 40.3% of academic and research staff are women. The median pay gap has also been reduced to 6.5%, compared to a national average in higher education of 15%.