A paper by Oxford BRC-supported researchers says that linking research funding to Athena SWAN gender equality action plans has been associated with a rise in the number of women in mid-level leadership positions and the proportion of funding going to women.
The paper, published in the BMJ, said that more funders should trial funding incentives as they have been shown to work.
The research team was led by Pavel Ovseiko, Senior Research Fellow in the Radcliffe Department of Medicine.
To accelerate women’s advancement and leadership, the National Institute for Health Research (NIHR) in 2011 linked its research funding to the implementation by universities of gender equality action plans through the Athena SWAN (Scientific Women’s Academic Network) charter.
In the 2016 round of the competition, the NIHR said it would not shortlist any research centre where the academic partners had not achieved at least the Athena SWAN silver award.
After the introduction of the Athena SWAN incentives, the proportion of female theme leads in BRCs increased from 8%in both 2006 and 2011 to 24% in 2016. The proportion of women in senior director positions also increased, albeit more modestly, from 11% in 2006 and 10% in 2011 to 15% in 2016.
Before Athena SWAN funding incentives were introduced, the proportion of funding obtained by female theme leads was 5% in 2006 and 4% in 2011. This increased to 21% in 2016.
“Our analysis has shown that funders can play a central role in advancing gender equity in healthcare research through policy interventions and funding incentives,” Ovseiko said. “We have found that linking NIHR funding to Athena SWAN gender equality action plans has been associated with a rise in the number of women in mid-level leadership positions and the proportion of funding going to women.”
“We would strongly advocate for more research funders to trial policy interventions and funding incentives for women in science and evaluate their effect.”
NIHR removed the requirement for applicants to hold Athena SWAN awards in 2020, partly to reduce administrative burden during the COVID-19 pandemic.
It stated that the use of the Athena SWAN charter had “led to the greater embedding of gender equality practice”. Although Athena SWAN awards are no longer required, applicants can choose to evidence the relevant elements of this new broader commitment through the awards.