Athena Gold Success as a platform for the future

As the majority of us work remotely, in our own homes, away from the campuses, students and staff, and have been putting so much effort into learning a completely new way of studying and working, we might have been at risk of reducing our proactive focus on equality, diversity and inclusion (EDI) in our work and communications. But consideration of EDI has never been more important than now – the Covid-19 outbreak has brought many inequalities into sharp focus.

We have been fortunate at the University of Nottingham that we have been having an active dialogue around EDI, and building our understanding around the interventions required to support inclusion and reduce inequalities for several years now, and that our strategic delivery plan provides a clear focus for our work. This plan sits alongside the clear commitment to values within our University strategy, and work done by several teams to also establish priorities for staff and student wellbeing. But even the benefit of this past work doesn’t mean that embedding EDI in our new ways of working is easy, and it doesn’t mean that there are not still unequal impacts of Covid-19. Staff and students with care responsibilities still face an overwhelming challenge in balancing work or study and looking after their families, and some students and staff are working in settings where it can be difficult to access online materials, and hard to find quiet space to focus.

However, over the past few weeks and months I have been overwhelmed by the thought and care with which people have questioned how we can deliver our work in a way that is accessible, considerate of difference and retaining an ambition to deliver the highest quality student and staff experience that we can. I have had dialogue with teams drawn from education and student experience leads, mental health first aiders, human resources, campus life, heads of school, University Executive Board, professional services leads, the staff and students unions, Graduate School, leads of doctoral training, EDI leads in schools, staff networks, faculties and Professional services and many many more. In all of these conversations, what comes through is a desire to learn quickly how we can support everyone to our best ability, to provide each other with mutual support, and to be open and honest about any inequalities that we might observe. We are developing an approach to ensure we are able to rapidly conduct equality impact assessments on all our major decisions as we plan the coming months and the forthcoming academic year, with an aim to embed EDI in all of our thinking. We won’t get everything right, we can’t always influence external factors in the way we would like, and we might have to support EDI differently in the light of the significant impact that Covid-19 has had on the HE sector. But our commitment is not reduced in any way, and a continued honest and open conversation is critical to continually improving the way we work. 

Alongside this high level of current activity by many people to support EDI, we have had some excellent news over the past week. The School of Psychology was successful in again being awarded Athena SWAN silver status, representing a consistent and committed programme of work to address gender equality. And our Faculty of Engineering became the first Engineering unit in the country to receive the prestigious honour of being awarded an Athena SWAN gold award. This is an outstanding achievement, that represents over 12 years of work since the first silver award was made to one of the Engineering departments in 2008, followed by two faculty silver awards in 2011 and 2014. To be awarded gold status not only requires demonstration of long-standing commitment to active intervention to support gender equality, but also includes a requirement for ‘Beacon’ activity, demonstrating leadership both within the University and more widely. Engineering are the first faculty or School in the University of Nottingham to be awarded gold status, and I would like to take this opportunity to pass on my personal congratulations and thanks to the Athena lead, Leah Ridgway, and the Engineering Faculty Self Assessment Teams, the sub groups, and the Faculty leadership team.

An Athena SWAN award does not mean that we have completed our work, it signals continuing commitment and ambition, and provides a clear framework for our collective actions. But in this continuingly difficult time, it is good to take a moment to reflect on the progress we have made, which provides an outstanding basis for us all to work together to support students and staff at the University of Nottingham over the coming weeks and months. 

Sarah Sharples.

Pro-Vice Chancellor for Equality, Diversity and Inclusion and People.

Equality, Diversity and Inclusion

Trent Building
University Park Campus