Athena SWAN success for UCC

Athena SWAN awards for UCC’s School of Biological, Earth & Environmental Sciences (BEES), School of Chemistry and School of Pharmacy.

Three UCC Schools have received Athena SWAN awards, recognising their commitment to promoting good employment practices for women in science in higher education.   The Schools of Biological, Earth & Environmental Sciences (BEES), Pharmacy and Chemistry are the first in UCC to earn departmental-level Athena SWAN accreditation.

“I congratulate everyone whose hard work is recognised in these awards,” said Professor John O’Halloran, Deputy President & Registrar and Chair of UCC’s Athena SWAN Steering Group.

”Athena SWAN is about creating better working environments for everyone.  The application process provides a framework for Schools to reflect on how local practices, systems and policies promote gender equality.”

Professor O’Halloran described the submission process as “both arduous and enlightening; teams in each School have met monthly for the past 18 months, analysed extensive data and consulted widely with colleagues and students.”

Pharmacy, Chemistry and BEES are now implementing equality action plans, aimed at improving workplace practices to benefit everyone. Implementation of these plans is being supported by the Athena SWAN team, who form part of UCC’s Equality, Diversity and Inclusion (EDI) Unit. EDI Director Dr. Karl Kitching noted “the action plans are an exciting indication of how equality and diversity principles are being embedded in everyday practice at local unit level in UCC.”

All Irish HEIs are signatories to the Athena SWAN Charter principles; these are now expanding to include not just science and medicine, but also disciplines in the arts, humanities, social sciences, business and law.   UCC, which has held an institutional Athena SWAN award since 2016, plans to extend Athena SWAN accreditation across the University in the coming years.

The award success was announced by the UK-based Equality Challenge Unit on the 7th May.

Photo By Tomas Tyner, UCC

Pictured L-R: Ann King (Athena SWAN Project Officer), Prof Sarah Culloty Head of School of BEES), Prof Justin Holmes (Head of School of Chemistry), Prof Astrid Wingler (Chair of School of BEES Athena SWAN Steering Group), Prof John O’Halloran (Deputy President & Registrar), Prof John Wenger (Chair of School of Chemistry Athena SWAN Steering Group), Dr Karl Kitching (Director of Equality, Diversity & Inclusion Unit, UCC), Dr Abina Crean (Chair of School of Pharmacy Athena SWAN Steering Group, Anne-Marie Curtin (Equality, Diversity & Inclusion Officer), Prof Stephen Byrne (Head of School of Pharmacy) 

For more on this story contact:

Ann King, Athena SWAN Project Officer, UCC,, 021-4903999

Gender Audits

If you are seeking to do a gender audit of your group, decision-making structure, website, publications, research, culture or other, here are a few tools that may be of help in guiding you.

GENOVATE have created and collated a range of tools that can be adapted to your specific purpose, such as Measures for Supporting Gender Balance in Decision-Making and A Guide to Gender Proofing Research Projects.

Other bodies with research into gender audits are the European Institute for Gender Equality, who have written a guide to conducting a gender audit as part of their gender mainstreaming section, which includes a link to the International Labour Organisation’s manual for gender audit facilitators (pp34-46 in particular), and Interactions’ Gender Audit Handbook offers advice for organisational audit.

For a comprehensive overview of a full gender review of your system, from culture to budgets, read GENOVATE’s Model for Gender Equality in Transforming Research and Innovation.  And for an interactive version with links to lots of related resources, check here:

Experience of a plant scientist analysing complex human data

By Astrid Wingler, Professor of Plant Biology and Chair of Self-Assessment Team, School of Biological, Earth and Environmental Sciences (BEES)

Professor Astrid Wingler, BEES

Writing a departmental Athena SWAN application requires in-depth data analysis on diverse aspects, such as staff recruitment, career progression and student degree attainment. As scientists, we’re used to dealing with lots of numbers in large Excel spreadsheets, so all of this should be easy; but things did not turn out as straightforward as expected.

There was a lot I had to learn about School of BEES and UCC, especially as I’ve only been here two years and the procedures at UCC still confuse me. For example, it turned out that the students on the nine different undergraduate BSc programmes we offer in BEES are registered using 21 (!) different degree codes. I would never have been able to work this out myself, and I am grateful for the patient support provided by the Systems Administration Office.

 All data for the application have to be gender disaggregated, but how does one decide who’s “female” and who’s “male”? Am I really dealing with “gender” here, or are we just making assumptions about a person’s sex based on their name? As a plant scientist, I’m not used to dealing with gender issues, and I’m feeling slightly uneasy about having to pigeonhole humans according to assumed gender.

Plant Science staff and students at Tozer Seeds as part of a field course earlier this year (

I also learn that staff questionnaires and the questions asked in focus group discussions need “ethics approval”. Well, I’m used to considering biological safety issues, but questions of morality rarely arise when I’m doing experiments with plants. All questionnaire responses need to be anonymised, which isn’t necessarily that easy. How can the responses be presented accurately and without hiding important statements, while also ensuring that individuals cannot be identified? And how does one present the responses that cannot be summarised as numbers to provide an accurate reflection of the “culture” in our School? I’m trained to focus on numbers and to make simple statements using scientific language backed up by statistical analysis. So how does one describe “culture” and does this really matter?

As my head starts to smoke, I ask myself what motivated me to get involved in Athena SWAN. I realise that it’s not numbers that drive me, but the desire to improve the experience of students and staff, whatever gender they may be. Behind those numbers hide very personal stories of success and achievement, but also of frustration and failure. The numbers are just the starting point to get us thinking: What kind of support does a student need who worries about career prospects? What impact does maternity have on the career of a researcher? How does a colleague cope with having to look after children or elderly parents, in addition to having a huge teaching workload?

I assume that thinking about all of this is an important first step, and that by trying to find solutions to the issues raised as a result of our Athena SWAN application we show that “culture” really does matter to us in the School of BEES!