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Charikleia Tzanakou

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Charikleia Tzanakou attended the international conference Structural Change for Gender Equality in Research and Innovation: Contextual Factors, which took place on 19 May 2017 in Prague.

Abstract of her paper:

Gender equality programmes and ‘changing’ in a higher education context

A plethora of institutional, national and international efforts have been undertaken since the 1980s to address gender inequality in higher education and research. In the UK, a national initiative known as the Athena SWAN Charter Mark emerged in 2005 to ‘encourage and recognise commitment to advancing the careers of women in science, technology, engineering, maths and medicine (STEMM) employment in higher education and research'.

Higher education institutions (HEIs) in the UK have thus been invited to assess the situation of gender equality in their own institution, identify challenges and submit their plan activities to address those challenges.  There are three different award types, which show different levels of progress: Bronze (identification of challenges and plan of activities), Silver (evidence of on-going activity and impact) and Gold (significant record of activity and impact).

This scheme has gained a lot of momentum when eligibility for national funding for health research was connected to the conferral of a Silver award. The increasing number of departmental submissions further increased with the expansion of the Athena SWAN to Arts, Humanities and Social Sciences departments.  Therefore, the Athena SWAN initiative has led UK HEIs to introduce and sometimes embed relevant structures and activities devoted to this scheme in their current structures. We have thus seen evidence of structural change in relation to gender equality across UK HEIs. But what are the benefits and challenges of such ‘changing’?

Based on qualitative information collected from academic and administrative staff on the perceptions about the academic workplace and gender equality, I discuss how individuals think and experience the Athena SWAN process. In my analysis, I draw from Trowler’s argument on change and its necessary characteristics: salience (the significance of the initiative for the target group), congruence (how the new practices match/fit current ones) and profitability (degree of perceived benefit) (Trowler, 2008). Finally, I show how understanding about characteristics of change through individual accounts can be useful in understanding resistance and slow progress towards gender equality.