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Celebrating Athena Swan Bronze success at University of Suffolk

09 Oct 2023 | Professor Emma Bond Professor Emma Bond, Pro Vice Chancellor Research at the University of Suffolk, describes the impact of committing to gender equality within the institution leading to an institutional Athena Swan Bronze award.

As a university we are delighted to have achieved our institutional Bronze Athena Swan award. The University of Suffolk (UoS) has robustly maintained its commitment to gender equality and we are very proud of the significant achievements we have made since gaining our independence in 2016. 

UoS is a diverse and vibrant community committed to providing equality of opportunity to all staff and students. In 2021, we committed to adopt the Athena Swan principles and develop our first submission, because we recognised how the Athena Swan journey can help us achieve greater equity and equality for all genders and intersecting identities institution wide. Our senior leadership team agreed our institutional commitment to the Athena Swan principles which are reflected in our values.  

EDI Committee 

Our commitment to gender equality does not, however, start there. Our Vice Chancellor, Professor Helen Langton, made equality, diversity and inclusion (EDI) her ‘focus topic’ for the year 2020-2021 in which we revised and refreshed the University’s EDI approach, including the EDI Committee and its Terms of Reference, with the strong intent to make engagement more action oriented. This has been highly successful, and our recent submission for the Athena Swan Bronze award and the subsequent action plan is testament to our revised approach.  

The EDI committee (EDIC), chaired by our Deputy Vice Chancellor, Professor Mohammad Dastbaz, provides a forum for setting strategy, governance and monitoring of EDI activity. Reporting to the Executive and Senior Leadership Team (SLT), the EDIC oversees agreed priority areas and projects, reviews EDI related data, conducts reporting, commissions, and generates annual reports for the Board, ensuring objectives are set in the wider strategy and operating plan. We publish an Annual Equality and Diversity Report on our website, detailing current priorities and progress of objectives.  

Our staff told us (through our annual staff survey) that our best scoring area (at institutional level) is that everyone treats each other with dignity and respect, regardless of protected characteristics. Additionally, they have told us that people of all cultures and backgrounds are respected and valued here. These are results for which we should be rightly very proud.  

Recognition and reward 

As a university, we have formal processes for recognising and rewarding EDI work. For example, supporting EDI is explicitly included as an example in our professorial appointments and promotion policy and our annual staff awards event has a specific “Outstanding Contribution to EDI Award” for nominees who embody positive EDI values and promote inclusivity.  

We evaluate EDI initiatives and activities through formal mechanisms (eg Access and Participation Plan; staff survey; Equality Impact Assessments; student/staff demographic data) and informal mechanisms (eg staff/student groups; discussion boards; all staff events and our annual staff awards). Our promotions policy explicitly includes the need to consider individual circumstances in the decision-making process, (ie maternity, part time working, disability etc), to ensure that no individual or group are negatively impacted. 


This was a truly collaborative application. For the past two years, we have prioritised developing our Athena Swan agenda, I was appointed the Pro Vice Chancellor Research to lead the work as a sub-group of our EDI committee. We resourced this commitment through a research fellow, introducing a specific EDI post in our People and Organisational Development Directorate and forming a pan-university Athena Swan Self-Assessment Team (SAT) with representation from every School, Directorate and SU (inclusive of all genders, sexuality, ethnicity, disability and pay-grade).  

The self-assessment for the application and action plan was undertaken by the SAT, as a representative team. The SAT meet face-to-face on a bimonthly basis. The initial focus of meetings was to discuss Athena Swan, the award, the submission, the staff survey, focus group findings and roles within the SAT. We consulted extensively through the staff survey and focus groups led by research fellow, Katie Tyrrell, to identity what was working well and what could be improved. Using both the quantitative and the qualitative evidence, we identified a list of areas on what we were doing well and what aspects could be improved. The SAT (engaging in McKeown and Thomas’ 1988 Q-sort exercise), identified institutional priorities to inform the action plan to embed a sustainable EDI approach.  

From this work five key priority areas were identified:  

  1. address inequalities in academic staff representation across the institution at all levels; 

  1. address inequalities in professional services staff representation across the institution at all levels; 

  1. identify further opportunities to develop and promote a culture of inclusion and belonging; 

  1. supporting staff with caring responsibilities; 

  1. supporting diverse gender identities. 

Sights set on Silver

Having been successful, our work is now really just starting as we begin to deliver, monitor and evaluate our action plan. Members of the SAT are supported to be EDI champions and disseminate information regarding Athena Swan to staff in the Schools/Directorates through meetings and School Executives and seek staff views to inform SAT discussions.  

We have consistently and effectively delivered other action plans (eg, HR Excellence in Research Award) and we will adopt a similar approach to robustly evaluate the Athena Swan action plan using clear success indicators to inform a Theory of Change methodology. 

We are extremely grateful to our pan-university SAT team for all their hard work and for their enthusiasm and commitment to embedding gender equality across our university community. We have a five-year journey ahead of us and a lot of learning to do but we are delighted with our success to date and look forward to building on this strong foundation as we start our Athena Swan journey with our sights firmly set on achieving Silver in five years' time.  


Professor Emma Bond is Pro Vice-Chancellor Research and Professor of Socio-Technical Research at the University of Suffolk.  As Pro Vice-Chancellor Research, she has overall responsibility for the Research Directorate, the University’s research strategy and is the Athena Swan lead for the University.  


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