UCL chemical engineering department receives Gold Athena Swan award for gender equality efforts

Article by Amanda Jasi

Advanced HE

UNIVERSITY College London’s chemical engineering department has been awarded gold status as part of the Athena Swan Charter, in recognition of its commitment to gender equality.

In 2009, the UK university department was the first in chemical engineering, along with Imperial College, to win a Silver Athena Swan award, which was renewed in 2012 and 2017.

The latest award recognises its continued improvement over more than one award cycle, and that its gender practice is sector leading. It also recognises that the department continually monitors and updates its policies and practices to ensure that it remains innovative, intersectional, and inclusive of people of all genders.

Eva Sorenson, head of the chemical engineering department at UCL, said: "Equality and inclusion is the backbone of our department, it is part of our ethos, and we will continue to strive towards ensuring that all members of the department feel included and appreciated, and that we have the policies and procedures in place to monitor this."

Nigel Titchener-Hooker, dean of engineering at UCL, said: "This award is proof positive of the department’s total commitment to equality and inclusion. It is the public recognition of so much, visible and invisible, the permeation of principles applied to action. The faculty of engineering sciences is proud of chemical engineering, staff and students alike. A timely reminder too that performance takes time and a grassroots approach to practical issues combined with strong and effective teamwork and leadership."

The award came following the latest round of assessments run by Advanced HE, a membership scheme that promotes excellence in higher education. It is valid until May 2028.

Chemical engineering at UCL is now one of four departments at the university to hold a Gold Athena Swan award. The others are the GOS Institute for Child Health, the Institute for Women’s Health, and the MRC Lab for Molecular Cell Biology. Across the UK, 19 departments have held Gold status.

Continued gender equality focus

UCL’s chemical engineering department has outlined its Athena Swan priorities over the next five years. It will:

  • continue to resource and champion inclusivity and gender equality initiatives in the department and role-model best practices;
  • continue to enhance support to research fellows for their career progression;
  • maintain high proportions of female taught students and further increase the number of female researchers and academics;
  • maintain the continuous improvement in performance of female and male BAME students; and
  • support UCL and the sector community with gender equality and inclusivity initiatives.

Analysis published last year by EngineeringUK found that the profession continues to have a significant gender imbalance with female engineers making up just 16.5% of the engineering workforce in 2021, up from 10.5% in 2010. To help address diversity issues, the Royal Academy of Engineering has launched a diversity impact programme that has awarded £1.7m (US$2.1m) to UK university engineering departments for projects to help bolster diversity and inclusion.

The Athena Swan Charter

The Athena Swan Charter is a framework used across the world to support and transform gender equality within higher education and research. It was established in 2005 to encourage and recognise commitment to advancing the careers of women in science, technology, engineering, maths, and medicine (STEMM). Now, it addresses gender equality more broadly, not just the barriers to progression that affect women.

Article by Amanda Jasi

Staff reporter, The Chemical Engineer

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