Athena Swan

The University of Oxford was a founder member of the Athena Swan Charter and held an institutional Athena Swan Bronze award since 2006.   

2023 Silver award 

In February 2023, for the first time, the University was awarded an institutional Silver award, acknowledging the progress that has been made in addressing a number of gender gaps across the University over the last five years.  

Main areas of achievement over the last five years: 

  • Introducing a suite of measures to support parents and carers, including Day 1 entitlement to paid family leave, carer’s leave, career break options, paid fertility treatment leave, expanding adoption leave to include early permanence arrangements, 5 days’ emergency dependant’s leave at full pay rate, offering up to 10 days additional annual leave through a salary sacrifice, and temporary flexible working options.  Staff are also eligible to register free for Work+Family Space. A 5-year review of the annual £240,000 Returning Carers’ Fund found that it had supported 150 academics/researchers since 2017 to re-establish their research pathways after a period of leave. 
  • Sustained progress in addressing the gender gap in academic roles, with female staff comprising 27% of all professors (up from 18% in 2012), 20% of Statutory Professors (up from 11% in 2012) and 36% of Associate Professors, without title (up from 29% in 2012). 
  • A huge leap in the number of departments/faculties with Athena Swan awards over the last ten years, from 7 awards in 2012 to 42 awards (21 Silver and 21 Bronze). This means that overall, 10,357 staff and 18,989 students benefit from working/learning in a department with an Athena Swan award. In 2022, for the first time, Medical Sciences also became the first all-Silver division, with 16 departmental Silver awards. 

The 2023 action plan lays out 8 objectives to be achieved by 2028: 

  • Objective 1: Strengthen department/faculty engagement and coordination of EDI work 
  • Objective 2: Ensure University decision-making and governance structures are representative of the University community and inclusive in practice and culture 
  • Objective 3: Continue to increase the proportion of women in senior academic roles 
  • Objective 4: Address the gendered aspects of caring and wellbeing that negatively impact on career progression and retention 
  • Objective 5: Tackle bullying and harassment across the University 
  • Objective 6: Embed inclusive research practices across the university 
  • Objective 7: Increase levels of satisfaction and inclusion amongst Trans and non-binary staff and students 
  • Objective 8: Address issues of gendered job segregation impacting the gender pay gap 


The Athena Swan 2023 action plan was developed in partnership with the race equality charter action plan (to be submitted in July 2023) and supports measures already being undertaken in the Concordat action plan for early career researchers. 

Established in 2005 to encourage and recognise commitment to advancing the careers of women in science, technology, engineering, maths and medicine (STEMM) employment, the Charter is now being used across the globe to address gender equality more broadly, and not just barriers to progression that affect women.

In 2015, the Charter was expanded to cover all subjects and to include a focus on professional and support staff, as well as recognition of issues faced by transgender people. In March 2020, an Independent Review of the UK Athena Swan Charter concluded with wide ranging recommendations to transform the Charter to make it more relevant, flexible and responsive to Universities’ and departments’ needs. 


The Transformed Athena Swan Charter was launched on 30 June 2021, following extensive consultations with the sector.  Key features of the new framework are:

  • Flexibility and autonomy for institutions and departments to focus on their own priorities
  • Revised award criteria with clarified expectations
  • A developmental approach, providing stronger support and feedback.
  • Reduced data reporting requirements that lessen administrative burden.

Further details of the Transformed Charter are available via the Advance HE website.  Read the EDU briefing which summarises the main changes and view a recording of a University webinar on the changes and what they mean for the University:


Athena Swan offers a valuable framework for introducing policy as well as cultural changes that create a better working environment not just for women but for people of all genders. A 2019 impact assessment of the UK Athena Swan Charter found strong evidence that the Charter has supported cultural and behavioural change – not just around gender equality, but equality and diversity in all its forms.

Using the Athena Swan application process gives universities and departments the space to reflect on and identify organisational and cultural practices that are inclusive and address barriers to gender equality as well as the opportunity to celebrate their progress and success towards equality and inclusion. Athena Swan awards demonstrate commitment to gender and wider equality and enhance the attractiveness of departments to prospective students and staff alike.

Universities and departments applying for Athena Swan awards carry out a self-assessment of gender issues in their context and identify actions to address key inequalities over a five-year period.  The new framework also invites departments to consider how intersectionality can be approached, and assessed, in departmental policies, practices and culture.  To maintain awards, institutions and departments need to show evidence of progress (for renewals at the same level) and success of previous actions (for higher awards).