By Nikki Murphy and Dan Grennan

DIT have failed to obtain gender equality accreditation that  could see funding cut under the new HEA requirements.

The Higher Education Authority intends to make Athena Swan accreditation a condition of research funding for higher education institutions (HEIs) by the end of 2019.

If the HEA makes accreditation a condition of funding, all HEIs will have to hold at least the Bronze Award by 2020 and the Silver Award by 2023.

Five of Ireland’s seven universities hold accreditation on the basis of gender equality, but none of the country’s 14 institutes of technology do.

“DIT is fully committed to addressing gender equality across all areas of the Institute and we are taking the opportunity afforded by the Athena Swan accreditation process to benchmark where we are now and to set clear targets for improvement.  While data is important, the most important aspect of the application is the reflection on all aspects of the organisation.  It is an invigorating process for any organisation because it is essentially about cultural change management,” said DIT President Brian Norton.

“Unconscious bias training has been provided for all interviewers; we are looking at mechanisms to encourage more applications from women candidates for senior positions; and we are reviewing our procedures across a range of areas to identify and eliminate potential barriers to women’s participation in decision-making fora,” Norton added.

The Athena Swan Charter was established in the UK 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.

Run by Equality Challenge Unit (ECU), a charity, it offers gold, silver and bronze awards.

The Bronze Award recognises that an institution has a solid foundation for eliminating gender bias and developing an inclusive culture that values all staff.

For the Silver Award, the criteria is around demonstrating impact. So universities and IoTs must show what changes they have made – and how this has led to positive effects on gender equality.

No entire institution holds the Gold Award yet, but some departments within a few institutions have been won it.

Trinity, University of Limerick, UCD, DCU and UCC have all won the Athena Swan Bronze Award, which looks set to become a condition of research funding by the end of 2019.

The Athena Swan (Scientific Women’s Academic Network) Bronze Award requires the submission of a report including statistics on gender equality at all levels: from undergraduate students to postgraduates, from lecturers to senior managing staff.

The report must show that the institution interprets the data and from that can identify problems and possible solutions to those problems. There must also be a four-year action plan for improvement.

“In short, it is about identifying gender issues, understanding why those issues exist, and putting together really specific and measurable actions to address those issues,” said Sarah Fink ECU’s equality charter adviser for Athena Swan.

After four years, an institution can apply for the Silver Award or re-apply for the Bronze Award. When re-applying for the Bronze, it must show progress and development from the previous application.

“To move up to silver, it is about evaluating the impact of those actions and identifying good practice,” said Fink. “In terms of why applicants are unsuccessful, this can be for a whole range of reasons related to the award criteria (e.g. lack of data analysis, a weak action plan, etc).”

The Athena Swan awards were brought to Ireland in 2015, with the help of a network of staff across our institutes of education and the Centre for Women in Science and Engineering Research (WiSER), which is based at Trinity.

“The three major research funding agencies, which are Science Foundation Ireland (SFI), Health Research Board (HRB), and the Irish Research Council set out a declaration, that they will require ITs applying for funding to have succeeded in a Bronze Award application by 2019,” said Professor Brian O’Neill, chair of DIT’s steering group for Athena Swan.

“It is a real challenge because most of the IoTs have been focused on subject areas that fewer women went into in the first place,” said Claire Marshall, the programme manager of the Trinity Centre for Gender Equality and Leadership.

Trinity and the University of Limerick were the first to earn the Bronze Award, says Marshall, who in addition to her role at Trinity’s centre was also involved in WiSER.

That “was on the back of work we had already been doing. Both ourselves [Trinity] and Limerick were involved in separate EU projects about gender equality which followed similar kinds of initiatives as the Athena Swan,” she said.

“Athena SWAN … is about more than ‘fixing the numbers’ and ‘fixing the women’ – it represents a way of changing the culture in Irish higher education.” Marshall said. “Even with the best will in the world, it is a slow process and to see any impact takes a long time.”

DITs governing body has 20 members, 13 of these are men and 7 are women. The Senior Leadership Team has 9 members, 1 woman and 8 men. The members are the President; the Director and Dean of Engineering and Built Environment; the Director and Dean of the College of Business; the Director and Dean of the College of Sciences and Health; the Director and Dean of the College of Arts and Tourism; the Director of Student Development; the Director of Digital Campus and Learning Transformation; the Director of Corporate Services; and the Director of Campus Services and Relocation.

DIT provides Fee Support for staff to pursue post-graduate qualifications to support their career development. Gender trends are monitored in the annual applications to ensure there are no gender differences in access or support.  90 Female full-time PhD students in receipt of scholarships. 91 Male full-time PhD students in receipt of scholarships.

Here are some of the initiatives DIT have taken on to board to gain Athena Swan Award:


Creating Awareness of Gender Equality in key decision-making fora and disciplines: DIT is committed to creating a shared understanding of gender equality and how it can be championed and supported through key decision-making fora. The President and members of the senior leadership team have completed unconscious bias training to create awareness of bias in policy and decision-making. Athena SWAN and Gender Equality is a standing item on the Institute’s Human Resources Committee chaired by the President.


  • Performance Management & Development: All staff in DIT participate in the Performance Management and Development System (PMDS). Training is provided for reviewing managers to ensure performance management and development reviews are objective, supportive and encouraging. Training is also provided for staff engaging in Performance Management and Development reviews to support them to identify relevant training and development needs for career progression. Gender trends are monitored monthly in the uptake and participation in PMDS.


  • Networking: The Women Leaders in Higher Education (WLHE) Network was formed in 2014 by the DIT Aurora Leadership Development participants. The network has since grown its membership to over 80 women from across the Institute. The network holds two events annually committed to creating awareness of the issues influencing women’s career progression in the higher education sector. The WLHE network also provides informal networking and mentoring opportunities for women from across DIT academic, professional services and research functions.


Leadership development:


  • DIT has designed a Leadership Development Programme to support staff to develop the competencies required for leadership roles. The programme runs twice per year. Each programme is attended by 25 staff with 10 places allocated for men and 10 for women. 
  • DIT also sponsors 12 women each year to participate in the Aurora Leadership Development Programme for Women. This programme aims to create awareness of the issues influencing women’s career progression in the higher education sector.
  • Both leadership development programmes aim to create a strong pool of potential candidates for leadership roles. 
  • Participants of both programmes are engaged in a research study to measure the impact of Leadership Development Programmes on individual perceptions and attitudes toward leadership. The study aims to measure if there are gender differences in perceptions and attitudes toward leadership to inform the design and delivery of future training and career development initiatives.   
  • All participants of the DIT Leadership Development Programme and Aurora Leadership Programme for Women are assigned a mentor to support their continued personal and professional development. 


Promotion Opportunities

  • A number of promotion vacancies are advertised weekly within DIT providing staff with opportunities for career development and progression.  
  • To ensure an open, fair and transparent recruitment and promotion process, all members of selection panels must complete the Licence to Interview training which includes training on equality, diversity and unconscious bias in selection decisions.
  • To ensure good practice in recruitment and selection, the Head of Human Resources has engaged an external equality review of the Institute’s recruitment and selection policies and practices.


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