Feb 25, 2020

College to Apply for Equality Award by 2022, Despite ‘Disappointing’ Efforts so Far

A top gender equality official has said College will push for the silver Athena SWAN by 2022, but the new strategic plan aims for 2025.

Sárán FogartyAssistant News Editor
Sinéad Baker for The University Times

Trinity is to push ahead with plans to submit an application for an Athena SWAN silver medal by 2022, according to the College’s top gender equality official, despite an admission at College Board level that attempts so far have yielded “disappointing” results.

Clodagh Brook, Trinity’s associate vice-provost for equality, diversity and inclusion, has confirmed she wants to submit an application for the gender equality award – necessary if College is to hold onto much of its research funding – by 2022, while Trinity’s new strategic plan doesn’t aim for an application until 2025.

The unpublished strategic plan, which came into effect on January 1st, pushes out the timeframe for achieving the silver medal – the second step on a journey towards greater gender equality in Ireland’s universities – by three years, which risks jeopardising funding provided by the country’s biggest research bodies.


Internal minutes, presented to Board on December 18th and seen by The University Times, acknowledge that “efforts to date for Athena Swan accreditation in the University yielded disappointing results”.

But in an interview with The University Times, Brook said that “what we need to do is put in for silver by 2022 – that’s the important thing, and get it later on, that’s as far as the external eye would be concerned, so we need to put in for silver in 2022”.

“I would hope that we put in and achieve it in 2022”, she said. “It’s a steep curve. We’re moving very fast on it now, and there’s a lot of energy behind it, and obviously what I want to do is get silver by 2022.”

In November, in a presentation to Board, Brook outlined a series of actions Trinity can take in order to submit an application by April 2022.

Under the terms of Athena SWAN – adopted by universities in 2015 in order to promote better gender equality practices – Trinity is required to have achieved a silver medal by 2023 in order to hold onto funding streams from the Irish Research Council, Health Research Board and Science Foundation Ireland. The bodies have a combined annual budget of €230 million.

No Irish university has yet achieved a silver Athena SWAN award.

The strategic plan states that Trinity is aiming for 40 per cent female chair professors by 2025. Currently, Brook said, College has approximately 26 per cent female chair professors.

An internal risk assessment of the strategic plan, obtained by The University Times, flags a risk that “Trinity will not achieve 40% female representation of Chair Professors by 2025 due to (the) Irish Economy overheating”.

Trinity also highlighted the risk of an “impact on finances due to underachievement of Athena SWAN targets which require Silver status by 2023 to retain SFI, HRB and IRC research funding” – as well as the “risk of reputational damage due to poor publicity”.

Asked about the feasibility of achieving 40 per cent female chair professors, Brook said: “The SALI [Senior Academic Leadership Initiative] chairs will help a bit with that, and there’s a full review that needs to take place of the HR structures and the whole promotion process.”

“It’s an ongoing process”, she continued. “It’s very challenging. Silver is not easy to get because of this question of the impact as well. It’s not just box ticking, it’s actually getting impact.”

Trinity media relations officer Aoife Carr wrote in an email statement to The University Times that College is “not talking about the detail of the plan until it is published”.

In November, The University Times revealed that Trinity rushed through Brook’s appointment to the position without discussion at College Board level, despite Provost Patrick Prendergast admitting he “would not normally ask Board members to make a decision of this importance via the email approval process”.

In appointing Brook, Trinity U-turned on an earlier decision not to create the role, due to fears that its application for a new government equality initiative would be “seriously weakened” without a senior equality advocate.

In an internal memorandum emailed to members of the College Board, obtained by The University Times, Prendergast said it was of “central importance” that Trinity created the annual officership position by October 18th, in time for a submission to the first call of the government’s Senior Academic Leadership Initiative.

He proposed the appointment of Brook, an associate professor in Italian, to the position. Board members approved the appointment by email, with a handful of members registering their dissent that the appointment had not been discussed at Board.

The Senior Academic Leadership Initiative, which will see the creation of 45 new women-only senior professorships in Irish higher education, opened its call for applications on June 21st, giving Trinity almost three months to prepare a submission.

Three years ago, an equality report from Trinity highlighted that at the current rate of progress, full gender equality would not be achieved in the university until 2098. It also showed that women are under-represented in senior academic positions, with two out of three faculty deans, 63 per cent of heads of schools and 73 per cent of Fellows being male in 2015.

Established in 2005, Athena SWAN (Scientific Women’s Academic Network) is a charter managed by the UK Equality Challenge Unit that recognises and celebrates good practice in higher education and research institutions with regard to the advancement of gender equality.

Sign Up to Our Weekly Newsletters

Get The University Times into your inbox twice a week.