Athena SWAN Training: Thinking like a Charter Panellist

Thoughts from an attendee – Guest post by Eva Van Herel, Executive Administration Officer, Department of Humanities

 Having decided, before Summer, that our School is to put in an Athena SWAN Bronze submission, a small core group was formed to get things started and to make sure our application runs well through to the end. The Chair of our group attended some meetings, researched the application process and seemed quite at home in the material already, but for me, the whole process was mostly still a black box.

 To familiarise ourselves with the expected outcomes, our Chair recommended we all attend the ‘Thinking Like a Charter Panellist’ training. Nothing like a clear vision of the required outcome to focus the mind.

 And so we attended. Materials were provided by email beforehand. I browsed through them but was really quite unsure what I was supposed to be looking out for. There were exerpts from applications to serve as ‘mock panel examples’, a workbook with lots of charts and graphs, the panellist role description and the Athena SWAN Charter Awards Handbook. If that sounds like a lot, it looked like a lot too and I felt out of my depth going into the workshop.

About 20 people turned up and it was led by James Lush from the Equality Challenge Unit (ECU) which runs the panels, providing administrative support and the knowledge to ensure that panellists are using the criteria correctly. They also write up feedback for the applicants. He took us through the basics of what the applications are all about, how panels work and the mind-set you need to take on a panellist role. The way to learning is done by doing so we studied and discussed the workbook case in groups which resulted in a clear view of how important it is to structure and label the data in your reports so that it makes sense and contributes to your school’s story. So many ways to be unclear were identified it was almost as though it was our job to find mistakes in other people’s work. Come to think of it, lecturers do spend a lot of time marking…

 After a short break for lunch we continued with the practise panels: half the people form a panel and the other half observe. 20 minutes of panel discussion on the case studies and then feedback from the observers. Each panel had a Chair (with prior experience) and they structured the conversation. By now, we had picked up enough knowledge to have a lively discussion on points in the application considered strong or weak. Time flew by and being an observer proved useful too.

 2 things particularly stuck out for me from this session.

  •  The panellists go through one application an hour and this means they have little time to spend on each part of an application – it will be very important to ensure we catch their attention by creating an application that is easy to read and presents its information in a clear and coherent way. The best way to do this is to have a common thread of story running through the whole and binding it together, resulting in the action plan. Pictures and graphs or tables must be to the point and pertinent to the conversation, but can enliven the document and make it more user-friendly.
  • It also became clear that there is a risk of getting so involved with the project that it becomes impossible to see the end result in the same way panellists will look at it – I understand now why it is recommended that you get a ‘trusted friend’ to look at the material critically before finalising it. Perhaps someone who had just followed the ‘Thinking like a Panellist’ training for the first time?

 I left the session feeling my time had been well spent. With a better understanding of what the end result is supposed to be, and how it will be assessed, the end goal is clear. Now for the real work – sitting down and doing the work needed to get there.



So what does it really take to bring about change?

Guest post by Santosh Sinha, MCE

 Strong self-awareness, a desire to see and do things differently and a good sense of humour. These were my three takeaways from the session on promoting diversity in universities by Professor Tom Welton on Wednesday.

 The session was part of the events planned during LGBT History Month on the campus.

 Professor Welton is the Dean of the Faculty of Natural Sciences at Imperial College London and a very engaging public speaker. He didn’t come with a presentation, but was quite obviously prepared for the conversation he wanted to have – a conversation that involved sharing his own experience, encouraging others to share their experiences and making the point that each one of us can contribute to making the University more diverse and inclusive.

 He thinks fairness is not a strong enough reason for people to take action on diversity. “I say this because since before anyone in this room was born, it has been clearly palpably unfair that some people have obstacles put in front of them that other people don’t have, and we haven’t taken action”.

 In his view,  the objectives that allow individuals to benefit along with the group and the institution are more likely to result in action. When he was appointed the Head of Chemistry at Imperial in 2007, the starting point was to create a department where the best and brightest chemists from Europe wanted to work, where the best and brightest chemists wanted to study and where research funders wanted to spend their money.

 “Diversity wasn’t a part of this, but when we looked at how close we were to achieving our first objective – of attracting the best and brightest chemists – it was obvious that our staff profile did not reflect that. And so we had a reason to act.”

 The changes that followed over the next five years resulted in Chemistry department at Imperial receiving a Gold Athena SWAN Award in 2013 – one of only four university departments in the United Kingdom to do so.

 “The best part is that the changes were owned by the entire department. They knew that is what was required to attract the best and the brightest. So, it wasn’t a change imposed from the top.”

 Professor Tom Welton’s key advice to those aiming to promote diversity and inclusivity is to do exactly that. “Make sure the idea for change is owned by the department. If everyone can benefit from these changes and it can lead to better outcomes for students and the institution, people are more likely to take action”.

 And these actions don’t need to be big necessarily. He strongly believes in leadership being exercised by anyone at any level in an organisation, and demonstrated this by asking those attending the session for just one thing they could change to make their area more inclusive. I have to say there were quite a few good ideas that came about as a result.

 So, is that it? All in favour. Job done. Award received. “No, the award is just a lump of plastic. Recognition is important, but the actions that you are taking to make your Department more diverse and inclusive is far more important”.