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Athena SWAN Reception

Saloon, Provost's House

27 August 2015


Good afternoon

And welcome to the Provost's House for this celebration of Trinity's success in the Athena SWAN awards, which recognise progress towards gender equality in higher education institutions.

It's wonderful to be heading into the new academic year with these prestigious awards in hand.

Athena SWAN is an initiative of the Equality Challenge Unit in the UK. In this – the first year that Irish institutions have participated in the awards - Trinity made four applications: a College-wide Institutional application, and three School applications with the Schools of Chemistry, Natural Sciences and Physics - because Athena SWAN puts particular focus on the STEM subjects.

All four applications were awarded Athena SWAN Bronze awards on 30th July, giving Trinity a 100 percent success rate, and making us the most awarded of any Irish institute of higher education. We also congratulate the University of Limerick for receiving the bronze award for their institution as a whole.

We are absolutely thrilled at Trinity's remarkable success. This reception is to mark the awards and to congratulate all involved in the achievement – the members of each of the Athena SWAN SATs, especially the convenors of each team – Professor Jane Grimson, Professor John Parnell, Professor John Boland and Professor Eithne McCabe. You have all done Trinity, and Ireland, proud.

And I must mention in particular WiSER Professor Eileen Drew, who has provided leadership in Trinity, and nationally.

In our current Strategic Plan, launched last autumn, we specified that Trinity would "act as a national leader to promote the introduction of the Athena SWAN charter to Ireland, thereby providing a proven framework through which Ireland's position on gender equality [in higher education] can be measured and evaluated".

Thanks to Professor Eileen Drew we have delivered on this action. She chaired the Athena SWAN Ireland committee which has been instrumental in seven Irish universities, 14 Institutes of Technology, and the Royal College of Surgeons in Ireland, signing up to Athena SWAN's charter.

A recent external evaluation found that in the UK the implementation of the Athena SWAN charter over the past decade was having a positive impact on career satisfaction, opportunities for training and development, knowledge of promotion processes, and fairness in the allocation of workload.

In the Strategic Plan, we made our commitment to introducing Athena SWAN under Goal 8; "Demonstrate Institutional Leadership".

In the university sector – and indeed in the workplace generally – gender equality is an area in which leadership is vitally needed. I am most proud that Trinity has stepped up. On behalf of the whole university, I congratulate and I thank Eileen and all involved. More even than the winning of the awards, we are proud of having helped introduce to Ireland this independent measuring and evaluating tool.

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The issue of gender inequality in academia is one that I’m a keenly aware of since I hail from one of the disciplines, Engineering, which is worst affected. I recall my undergraduate days: a few hundred of us in the lecture theatre, a monotony of men.  That was the early Eighties. Happily the situation has now improved, in Engineering as in other subjects, but much still needs to be done.

As you know, across the EU as a whole, women account for only about 20% of the highest grade of professors. Women are not being sufficiently promoted to senior decision-making roles. This is an issue affecting all university faculties, and it’s part of the wider issue of female promotion in the workplace generally.

Female representation on corporate boards on large listed companies in the EU, is also 20 percent - but this is following legal directives; it used to be much worse. Of S&P 500 companies, women currently hold just 4.6% of CEO positions.

Universities should lead the way when it comes to gender representation in the workplace. Historically, higher education has been a trailblazer. For the first half of the twentieth century, universities were one of the few places women could lead fulfilling careers, although their numbers were of course very small – but for instance in 1925 Trinity appointed a woman Professor of Law, Frances Moran.

While each succeeding decade saw improvements, there has latterly been a growing realisation that the situation for women in universities needs targeted action. It is not just going to right itself with time. There has to be organisational change across the sector.

From this realisation, Athena SWAN was established in 2005 in the UK, and in this university we launched the FP7 projects INTEGER and TWIST, and in 2006 we established the Centre for Women in Science & Engineering Research (WiSER) with the aim of 'recruiting, retaining, returning and advancing' women in science, maths, engineering and technology.

It is thanks to this crucial groundwork that we have been successful in having Athena SWAN extended to Ireland. So I congratulate all involved for their work over the past decade in foregrounding the issue of gender equality in higher education.

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Progressing more women to senior professorships and recruiting more women to study STEM subjects is an equality issue - but not solely, or even primarily. It's also an issue of growth and competitiveness. Building up research capacity and increasing competitiveness can only be done if the full skills and potential of all the workplace are utilised. 

In Trinity we insist on an education which is diverse, interdisciplinary, and innovative. In the current Strategic Plan, we note that (I quote):
"Commitments to equality and diversity are values on which Trinity's excellence relies. To this end we are committed to creating an inclusive, diverse and pluralist college community and a positive environment in which all can participate, and all are recognized fully for their contributions."

The Chancellor of this university – the first female chancellor since 1592 - has spoken frequently on the issue of gender inequality, and she put the issue starkly in context when she said: "In a society where the rights and potential of women are constrained, no man can be truly free. He may have power, but he will not have freedom."

For the sake of equality, and for the sake of growth and competitiveness, but most importantly of all for the sake of freedom, we will continue to work to remove constraints and to make the university a model of the inclusivity and plurality which we hope to see across society as a whole.

Thank you.

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