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Athena SWAN applications: Turning data into action

Posted by on May 14, 2018

The importance of data in preparing an Athena SWAN application was one of the key messages to the delegates at our Athena SWAN workshop, held in March.

Our speakers all agreed on the importance of obtaining good diversity data – both quantitative and qualitative – as a basis for any departmental or institutional Athena SWAN award application.

However, just describing the data is not enough – award assessors at the Equality Challenge Unit (ECU) will be looking for evidence of critical analysis of issues for example, identifying possible reasons for over- and under-representation of men and women at different career stages.

This can then be used as the basis for developing a SMART Action Plan to address areas of inequality. On the issue of representation, perhaps the most important place to start is with the Self Assessment Team, which is responsible for developing the application. Membership should be diverse, not just in terms of gender, but also in terms of career stage and grade of staff.

It is also critical to have buy-in from Senior Management from the beginning to ensure that any action plans developed have the necessary driving force behind them to encourage implementation.

Furthermore, it is essential to identify measures of success within a realistic timescale. All the speakers warned how easy it is to underestimate just how long it takes to plan, collate data and write an application; full engagement of everyone in the department or institution will ensure that this task is not left to a few individuals.

Data is fundamental for an Athena SWAN application, but you need to include critical analysis and a feasible action plan too.

As bioscientists, we are used to dealing with quantitative data, but we are much less familiar with qualitative data. The second workshop during our event, led by Kevin Guyan from the ECU, addressed this issue. In the case of Athena SWAN applications, there is a wide range of relevant quantitative data available to work with, from differences in the uptake of maternity and paternity leave to gender variations in the number of applications for different undergraduate courses.

Qualitative data can help explain and enhance the interpretation of trends in this quantitative data, by exploring the perceptions and experiences of relevant stakeholders. Interviews, surveys and focus groups are the most common methodologies used to investigate these issues, and you can pick one or more to investigate your question, with each enabling capture of the experiences of different groups of people, at various levels of preferred anonymity.

Once you have your qualitative data, there are a several tools available to help you analyse it and decide how to present your results clearly and concisely, these include, NVivo, and atlas.ti, to name a few.

Attendees at our Athena SWAN workshop discussing how to put together an application

One of the workshop exercises that attendees completed during our event involved commenting on good and bad examples of presenting qualitative data, and a key piece of advice which emerged was that it is always a good idea to ask colleagues who have not been involved in writing the application for a critical view before submitting.

Our speakers and experienced attendees emphasised that applying for an Athena SWAN Award is not just about ticking certain boxes or getting a piece of paper – it is about making a culture change within your institution.

There is no ‘model answer’ and each application is individual and assessed on its own particular merit, given the situation within a department, school, faculty or university.

No two institutions are the same and therefore each may employ different strategies to achieve the same goal. The focus should be on what works for you, and on embedding the principles of the Athena SWAN Charter into the culture of your institution.

The application is driven by data, data and data, but the real test is action, action and more action.

Missed the Athena SWAN workshop? Read our previous blogpost for an overview of the presentations and workshops which delegates were able to attend.

Content from the event is now available to view on our diversity and inclusion webpages, and on the RSB YouTube channel.

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