Athena SWAN award gives women a head start in science

The University of Leeds has been commended for its work to support the career development of talented women working in the traditionally male-dominated fields of science, engineering and technology.

Leeds is one of only 19 universities nationwide to have been awarded a prestigious bronze award of 2009 under the Athena SWAN Charter for Women in Science. A bronze award is the highest level that it is possible for an institution to achieve before working towards silver and gold awards.

The award, to be presented at a celebratory lunch at Birmingham Botanical Gardens on 29 September, will help to further strengthen the careers of women across the University's faculties of biological sciences, engineering, environment, maths and physical sciences, and medicine and health.

As the Royal Society of Chemistry has pointed out, "good practice benefits all, staff and students, men and women. However, bad practice adversely affects women's careers more than men's."

Professor of astronomy Paola Caselli, who started at the University of Leeds in 2007, says: "I have felt very encouraged to develop my career at Leeds - from exploring possibilities for interdisciplinary work, to continuing my work on star and planet formation, and now becoming involved in observations with the recently launched Herschel satellite. Recently, I have also become the head of the astrophysics group in the School of Physics and Astronomy."

The University of Leeds joined the Athena SWAN Charter in May 2008. Over the past year, a group chaired by Professor Jane Francis, Dean of the Faculty of Environment, and supported by Kathy Aveyard from the Equality Service, has worked to identify good practice and develop an action plan for further initiatives across the campus to support women's career development in research and learning and teaching.

The judging panel which approved the bronze award said they were impressed with the wide range of activities already taking place at Leeds. In particular, they noted the University's "open and transparent promotion procedures and the steps you have taken to improve promotion rates for women, such as the appointment of promotion advisers and the proactive encouragement of women to apply for more senior roles."

The judges were also pleased to see the University's work-life balance policies drawn together in one place on the HR website, and noted there was "clear senior support for flexible working".
They commended the extra level of support provided by the faculties of engineering and medicine for women academics returning from maternity leave or a long-term career break, and hoped this proactive approach could be extended across the University.

The University of Leeds has a strong commitment to promoting equality, as illustrated by the number of women in some of our most senior positions, including our pro-chancellor, two pro-vice-chancellors, and three female chairs in engineering.

Vice-Chancellor Professor Michael Arthur says: "Every one of our 8,000 staff plays a part in the success of the University and since five of our nine faculties include science, engineering and technology disciplines, the Athena SWAN principles are important reminders of the need to ensure that our women academics are supported throughout their employment to achieve their personal aspirations."

The Athena SWAN Charter is supported at a national level by the UK Resource Centre for Women in Science, Engineering and Technology and the Equality Challenge Unit. For further details see

For more information please contact equality and diversity manager Kathy Aveyard: or phone 0113 343 3964.

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