Scottish University celebrates biology department’s gender equality award

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A UNIVERSITY’S biology department is the first in Scotland to be awarded a prestigious award for gender equality.

The University of St Andrews’ School of Biology has become the first department of biology in Scotland to be awarded the prestigious Gold Athena Swan award.

The award is an accreditation that rewards excellence in advancing gender equality across higher education and research.

The University of St Andrews holds the Bronze Athena Swan charter at an institutional level with a number of academic departments holding silver and bronze accreditation.

But the School of Biology is the first at the university to receive the Gold Award.

Gender equality - education News Scotland
Photo by Tim Mossholder on Unsplash. The University of St Andrews School of biology is the first biology department in Scotland to win the award.

Professor Ruth Woodfield, Assistant Vice-Principal (Diversity), said: “This is a milestone for the School and University and a credit to all the hard work over many years.”

The Athena Swan charter, which was established in 2005 was initially to encourage and recognise commitments to advancing the careers of women in STEM.

It is also used across the globe to support and transform gender equality within higher education and research.

In 2015, the charter was expanded to include arts, humanities, social sciences, business, and law (AHSSBL), and now includes professional and support roles.

Gender Equality - Education News Scotland
Photo by Dainis Graveris on Unsplash. Gold Awards are rarely given and recognise “significant and sustained progression and achievement” in promoting gender equality.

A well-established record of activity coupled with data demonstrating continued impact, and those departments that promote good practice to the wider community.

Since its Silver Award in 2017, the School of Biology at St Andrew’s has worked on multiple actions to improve gender balance across the department. 

Professor Sascha Hooker, who has directed the Department’s Equality, Diversity and Inclusion (EDI) team since 2016, said: “This is a fantastic achievement, and one that everyone in the School of Biology deserves credit for.

“Equality, fairness, and transparency are prioritised across the entire school.

“We have worked hard to instill these values here but also to extend our initiatives beyond St Andrews.”

Creation of deputy roles for senior staff and ensuring gender parity across management roles has allowed individuals to build leadership experience, resulting in several women being nominated to influential positions within the University.

Additional actions taken have “eradicated historical gender biases” in promotion and grant success.

Professor Kevin Laland, Equality, Diversity and Inclusion Deputy Director, said: “These awards are progress markers of good practice, but they also outline future intent.

“We are not content with tackling gender equality and are also working hard on initiatives to support disabled and ethnic minority staff and students, and other disadvantaged minorities.

“A series of actions are planned designed to increase Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic representation and equality within the University.”

BLM - Education News Scotland
Photo by Mattia Faloretti on Unsplash. The University now has plans to improve racial inequalities.

Professor Frank Gunn-Moore, Head of the School of Biology, added: “I couldn’t be prouder of this exceptional achievement.

“We have worked hard to ensure EDI has become ingrained within our School strategy.

“We champion gender equality whenever we can, taking our good practice to conferences, national and international societies with which we are involved, and standing above the parapet to write thought-provoking and courageous articles about EDI issues.

“These activities mark the School out as a beacon of good practice within and beyond the University.”