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Bristol champions women scientists

18 September 2007

The Department of Biochemistry has won a prestigious silver SWAN award for excellence in recruiting and progressing women in science, engineering and technology (SET).

Positive action by the department has resulted in (among other things) an increase in the number of female academic staff and a significant increase in the number of women both applying for, and securing, promotion.

The department was honoured in the latest round of awards announced on 11 September. The University of York’s Chemistry Department was the first institution to win a gold award. Silver awards also went to York’s Psychology Department and the School of Physical and Geographical Sciences at Keele University. Queen Mary, University of London, and Heriot-Watt University both won bronze awards. The awards are evidence of these institutions’ progressive employment policies, which have enabled talented women to rise to senior levels in the department and for the respective universities to make the most of their talents.

Universities subscribing to the Athena SWAN Charter – funded jointly by the UK Resource Centre for Women in Science, Engineering and Technology (UKRC) and Equality Challenge Unit – are eligible for the SWAN awards, which assess UK universities in their role as science employers and mark their progress. The areas assessed include the number and position of women academics, positive support for women at key career transition points, culture and gender balance in decision making and work–life balance practices.

Head of Department Professor George Banting said: ‘The department appreciates this external recognition of what it considers to be ongoing good practice within the Department of Biochemistry. The Royal Society’s Athena organisation is an august body and we are proud to be the first biochemistry department in the country, and the first department in the University of Bristol, to receive a silver SWAN award.’

David Clarke, Pro Vice-Chancellor and Chair of the Athena SWAN Steering Group at the University, said: ‘We are naturally delighted with the success of our biochemistry department in obtaining the well-merited Silver SWAN award, to add to the bronze award to the University last year. Our aim now is to spread good practice more widely across all our University SET subject departments.’

Annette Williams, Director of UKRC, said: ‘Seeing successful women in university science and engineering departments has an enormous influence on attracting girls to study and work in SET. The SWAN awards highlight the ways in which universities and research institutions can recruit, retain and promote women to all levels of their SET departments. They show that there is a place for women in science and they can succeed.’

Nicola Dandridge, Chief Executive Officer at Equality Challenge Unit, said: ‘Science cannot reach its full potential unless it can benefit from the talents of the whole population; until women and men benefit equally from the opportunities that it affords.  Promoting gender equality is central to our work and we are, therefore, fully committed to supporting the Athena SWAN Charter.’

The awards will be presented at a ceremony at the Royal Society on 25 October. This is the fourth round of awards and the next round will take place in 2008. The Athena SWAN Charter was launched in June 2005.

Charter membership is open to universities and research institutions, which can apply for awards at bronze, silver and gold level. Bronze awards are only available at university level while individual science, engineering and technology departments can apply at silver and gold level. This enables departments to profile their achievements and to create action plans that take account of differences between university departments.

For more information, please contact Tracy Brunnock-Cook, the University's Equality and Diversity Manager, tel 0117 331 7029, email; Roger Livesey, PR Officer, UK Resource Centre for Women in Science, Engineering and Technology, tel 01274 438884, email; Julie Ashdown, Athena Swan Charter Coordinator, Equality Challenge Unit, tel 020 7438 1026, email

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