University of Limerick receives Athena Swan Silver Award award for ensuring gender diversity. President Kerstin Mey UL with Dr. Marie Connolly Director Human Rights, Equality, Diversity and Inclusion – Athena Swan lead Picture: Alan Place
UL has been recognised as a leader in embedding gender equality as the first institution in the Irish Higher Education Sector to receive the Athena Swan Silver Award
University of Limerick (UL) is the first institution in Ireland to receive a prestigious Athena Swan Silver Award, it has been announced.
The Kemmy Business School (KBS) at UL is also to receive a Silver Faculty Athena Swan Award, the first business school in Ireland to do so, marking ongoing efforts in achieving equality, diversity, and inclusion (EDI).
The Athena Swan Ireland charter is part of a global framework used to support and transform gender equality and to build capacity for evidenced-based equality work across the equality grounds enshrined in legislation within higher education and research and has the support of the Higher Education Authority (HEA).
All of Ireland’s universities and institutes of technology and several colleges participate in Athena Swan Ireland.
In 2015, UL was one of the first institutions in Ireland to achieve an Athena Swan Bronze Institution Award and established the office of Human Rights and Equality, Diversity, and Inclusion (HREDI) in 2021.
The Department of Physics received the Silver Faculty Athena Swan Award at the university in 2021 noting the faculty’s individual achievement, but University of Limerick has become the first Irish institution to receive the prestigious award.
UL President Professor Kerstin Mey said the institution “has always considered gender equality and broader equality, diversity, and inclusion issues as a key priority and through dedicated leadership has embedded gender equality across the institution.
“As not only President of this wonderful institution but also as chairperson of the Athena Swan EDI Steering Committee I am exceptionally proud that our institution has been recognised as a leader in embedding gender equality and the broader EDI agenda in the sector,” Professor Mey said.
“I am however not surprised as UL has always led the way in pursuit of gender equality as is evident in my own appointment as the first woman president of an Irish university in 2020.
“Aligning our Human Rights, Equality, Diversity and Inclusion objectives to our UL@50 Strategic Plan and our Sustainability Goals ensures that our core values of equity, inclusivity and diversity are integral to the work of the institution not an ‘add on’.
“To achieve a Silver Athena Swan Award an institution must demonstrate the impact of the committed actions in our previous submissions.
“This is evident in that 92% of our academic faculties, schools and departments are recipients of Athena Swan Bronze Awards.
“While our commitment to gender equality is long standing, we know that there remain significant challenges to be faced to address gender equality across all levels and, very importantly, intersectional inequality.
“I am personally committed to fully integrating Human Rights, Equality, Diversity and Inclusion into our structures, actions, and culture and to dedicating resources to achieve this end. My vision for UL is to rebalance social progress within environmental constraints and become a truly egalitarian university.”
A crucial priority for UL was to address the acknowledged negative impact on female careers of career interruptions for caring reasons. As part of the Athena Swan process, a Research Grant for Returning Academic Carers was introduced to help academic staff re-establish their independent research careers on returning from extended leave (20 weeks or more).
To date, 73 grants have been availed of at a cost of over €1.5 million (€728,000 since 2018). While the grant is available to all carers, only females have availed of it to date, the impact of which can be seen in better promotion application and success rates for women.
Advance HE, which administers the awards on behalf of the sector, said UL had demonstrated real impact in ensuring more female academics and staff had been able to progress and achieve promotion within the institution.
“University of Limerick has shown a deep-rooted commitment to delivering gender equality and that is shown in the comprehensive review it has conducted into the way it recruits and promotes its staff,” said Sarah Fink, Advance HE’s Head of Athena Swan Ireland.
“As a result, in the last three years, its number of female Associate Professors has more than doubled while its number of female Professors has increased by a third. Together with its appointment in 2021 of Ireland’s first female university president, the university has clearly demonstrated to us the transformational impact it is having as a result of its steps to addressing gender inequality.”
Dr Marie Connolly, UL’s Director of Human Rights, Equality, Diversity, and Inclusion said: “I am absolutely delighted that UL has once again been recognised as a leader in the field of gender equality. I would like to thank the president for her continued commitment to our HREDI agenda and for her leadership and chairing of our AS/EDI committee which sends out a very strong message of the commitment of the leadership of our institution.
“I would also like to acknowledge the hard work of members of the HREDI office and the excellent cross institutional teams who worked with us to put this successful application together and the on-going work that the Athena Swan/EDI committees are undertaking throughout the University supporting us in our goal to achieve gender equality and the broader EDI agenda in all areas of our institution supporting staff and students to achieve their full potential.”
“Today is a wonderful day for UL as our Kemmy Business School (KBS) have also been successful in achieving a Silver Award for their faculty – the first silver faculty award for a business school.
“Members of the KBS Athena Swan EDI committee have worked very closely with us on several transformative interventions not only at an institution level but also at a sectoral level so it is wonderful to see all that hard work acknowledged.”
The KBS achieved a Bronze Award in 2019 and has since delivered on a range of clear measurable actions that result in impactful outcomes, resulting in the silver award success that has just been announced.
Recognising the efforts of the EDI committee and broader faculty, KBS Executive Dean Finbarr Murphy, said: “This is a tremendous accomplishment, that underscores the impact of creating a working and learning culture that embodies the principles of Athena Swan, empowering staff and students to reach their full potential.”
Chair of the KBS EDI committee, Dr Caroline Murphy, said: “The Silver award recognises the progress achieved in addressing gender equality since our Bronze award, and marks the starting point of a broader and more ambitious action plan of activities to be achieved over the next four years.”