The under-representation of women among staff in higher education, particularly at senior levels, is an intractable problem internationally. In 2015 in Ireland 81% of professorial positions were held by men and, while women represented 62% of non-academic staff, men represented 72% of the highest paid non-academic staff. While there are currently 3 female presidents of institutes of technology, there has never been a female university president in the Republic of Ireland.
Against this background the HEA is actively seeking to foster gender equality among staff in Irish higher education through the extension of the Equality Challenge Unit’s Athena SWAN Charter to Ireland and through the implementation of the recommendations of the Report of the Expert Group: HEA National Review of Gender Equality in Irish Higher Education Institutions (2016). Details of these initiatives are provided below
Athena Swan Charter
The Athena SWAN Charter was launched in the U.K. on 22nd June 2005. Managed by the Equality Challenge Unit (ECU), the Athena SWAN initiative aims to effect cultural and systemic change in higher education institutions to support gender equality and the career-progression of women in science, technology, engineering, medicine and mathematics (STEMM) disciplines. The Athena SWAN bronze, silver and gold awards testify to institutions’ and departments’ success in advancing these goals. This entails, inter alia
- working towards increasing the proportion of women employed in higher education institutions;
- improving the representation of women on committees;
- enhancing the transition from postdoctoral researcher to first academic post;
- improving working practices to support career progression;
- supporting women’s networking across higher education institutions.
From 2016 the ECU’s gender equality charter mark extended the Athena SWAN Charter to include the arts, humanities, social sciences, business and law. Further information on Athena SWAN is available at http://www.ecu.ac.uk/equality-charters/athena-swan/.
In response to strong interest from the Irish higher education community, the HEA negotiated the extension of the Athena SWAN Charter to Ireland on a 3-year pilot basis commencing in the spring of 2014. In 2015 the following Athena SWAN awards were conferred upon Irish higher education institutions:
Institutional bronze awards:
- Trinity College Dublin (TCD)
- University of Limerick (UL)
Departmental bronze awards:
- TCD School of Physics
- TCD School of Chemistry
- TCD School of Natural Sciences
- UL Department of Life Sciences
- UL Department of Mathematics and Statistics
In 2016 an institutional bronze award was conferred upon University College Cork (UCC).
In 2017 institutional bronze awards were conferred on Dublin City University and University College Dublin, and a bronze departmental award was conferred on the University of Limerick’s Department of Physical Education and Sport Sciences.
Further to an HEA review of the 3-year pilot of the Athena SWAN Charter in Ireland, a new grant-agreement between the HEA and the ECU has been signed to support the continuation of Athena SWAN in Ireland for the period 1st May 2017–30th April 2020.
HEA Review of Gender Equality in Irish Higher Education Institutions
In September 2015 the HEA initiated an independent, national review of gender equality among staff in HEA-funded higher education institutions. The review was undertaken by a 5-member independent Expert Group comprising the chairperson, Máire Geoghegan-Quinn (European Commissioner for Research, Innovation and Science from 2010–2014), Professor Pat O’Connor (University of Limerick), Dr. Helen Peterson (Gothenburg University), Ryan Shanks (Accenture) and Professor Paul Walton (University of York).
Taking as its starting-point an analysis of the status quo in publicly funded higher education institutions in Ireland in respect of gender equality, the review examined the gender-balance across all grades of staff (including administrative staff) and the reasons for continuing gender inequality, making recommendations to address this. While providing an opportunity to take stock of progress to date in advancing gender-equality, the review adopted a ‘quality-enhancement’ approach to building on the sector’s achievements to date in this area.
The report of the review was launched on 27th June 2016 and is available below along with the supplementary publications and a presentation on the report. The HEA fully endorses the recommendations of the Expert Group and in November 2016 the HEA Board approved an implementation plan for the 12 recommendations made for the HEA in the report. This gives the HEA a strong mandate to play a leading role in addressing gender inequality across the Irish higher education sector—an endeavour in which the HEA is also engaging with research-funding agencies and other stakeholders.
In December 2016 the Irish Research Council (IRC), Science Foundation Ireland (SFI) and the Health Research Board (HRB) announced that, as per recommendation 3.8 of the Report of the Expert Group, they will require higher education institutions to have attained a bronze institutional Athena SWAN award by the end of 2019 and a silver institutional Athena SWAN by the end of 2023 in order to be eligible for research-funding.