University seeks recognition for representation of women in science

The University’s decision to apply for renewal of its Athena SWAN status has been met with scepticism from students

The University of York has announced that it intends to apply for a renewal of its Athena SWAN Award, for its work in combating the underrepresentation of women in science.

Image: FemFest

Image: FemFest

Commissioned by the Equality Challenge Unit (ECU), the award celebrates the work of individuals and departments that work in the science, technology, engineering, maths and medicine (STEMM) sector. It is given after a consideration of the number of women in academic roles, as well as the progression of students into STEMM courses, and can be awarded at bronze or silver level.

Currently, only a fifth of all employed by the sector are women.

A University spokesman said: “The University is highly committed to equality for all staff and students. Among the many equality initiatives with which we are involved, we are very pleased to be one of the UK’s leading institutions for its Athena SWAN accreditations in science departments. It is in this context that the University is now delighted to announce that we are re-applying for renewal of our institutional Athena SWAN status, which is currently at bronze level.”

However, the University’s enthusiasm for the renewal application has been met with scepticism from some students.

A third-year Politics student said: “Awards are all very well and good, but I can’t help but think its style without substance. I mean, the majority of our teaching staff and curriculums are mainly male orientated – I don’t see that being tackled.”

Similarly, A second-year Biology student told Nouse: “I find it comforting to walk into the Biology Department and see posters about women in science because we need to keep up a dialogue about it and keep reminding people it’s an issue.

“However, the mark of real success won’t be with something like this award, it’ll be when attitudes towards those in STEM are truly untainted by sexism – which isn’t where we are now.”

Izzy Lomas, President of Feminist Society, said: “It’s encouraging to see the university taking the representation of women in academia and particularly in STEM seriously. However, it is important to remember there is still a long way to go.

“I am a biochemistry student and in my first year, only one of my lecturers in the Chemistry Department was female. In addition, whilst good representation is important, it isn’t the only issue. The University must further improve gender equality by ensuring women are always properly supported when making complaints of gender based or sexual harassment.”

David Duncan, University Registrar and Secretary, told Nouse: “The number of awards already collected by the University is testimony to the commitment to promote women in science at York. Achievement of a silver award would be a further positive step forward.” The outcome of the University’s re-application for the Athena SWAN Award is expected to be confirmed within the next six months.

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