"Made-in-Canada" Athena SWAN consultation

Context

Canada's greatest potential can only be realized when all people are welcomed into the lab, the classroom and the field. That is why the Government of Canada is taking action to improve equity, diversity and inclusion in the research community.

Recently the Government of Canada announced it would move forward with implementing a made in Canada Athena SWAN initiative.

The Honourable Kirsty Duncan, Minister of Science and Sport, is currently consulting with post-secondary education institutions to discuss their views on how to adapt the Athena SWAN (Scientific Women's Academic Network) initiative for a "made-in-Canada" approach.

"Our intent is to adapt Athena SWAN so that we have a truly 'made-in-Canada' approach that reflects Canada's unique reality. Everyone deserves to have their voice heard and to be valued equally in scientific research. The Athena SWAN initiative is key to making this happen," Minister Duncan said.

Minister Duncan looks forward to hearing from Canadians about how an Athena SWAN initiative can be a success in Canada. Please share your thoughts at the following email address: consultations@nserc-crsng.gc.ca.


Background

The UK Athena SWAN (Scientific Women's Academic Network) is an internationally recognized initiative that celebrates higher education institutions that have implemented practices to advance equity, diversity and inclusion (EDI) in the sciences. Since its launch in 2005, the Athena SWAN initiative has been widely implemented in the UK higher education sector, where it is run by Advance Higher Education (AdvanceHE).

Athena SWAN was established to increase EDI and help drive deeper cultural change within the research ecosystem. Sound EDI-informed policies and practices increase access to the largest pool of qualified potential participants, enhance the integrity of a program's application and selection processes, strengthen research outputs and the overall excellence of research.

An independent research study carried out by Loughborough University in the UK reported on a number of benefits of the program, including advancing careers of women and creating a positive impact on changing attitude and culture.

As a certification-focused awards program, it follows a well-established model of using promising practices, shared standards, evaluation and benchmarking to raise performance and increase quality.  At present, in the UK, 731 research institutions and departments hold an award, of which there are three levels: Gold, Silver and Bronze. Institutions who participate in the Athena SWAN program must sign and endorse the Athena SWAN Equality Charter.

The Athena SWAN Equality Charter encourages and recognizes commitment by post-secondary education institutions to advancing the careers of women in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) employment in higher education and research.


Awards process

Research institutions apply for Athena SWAN awards, which are valid for multiple years. Applications are peer reviewed, however, unlike traditional peer review, applications are not ranked against others as in a normal competition. Applications focus on how institutions a) identify best practices as well as barriers to gender equity, b) construct an action plan to address the problems identified, c) implement these actions and d) evaluate outcomes.


Athena SWAN outside of the UK

The Athena SWAN model has been implemented in other countries outside of the UK with variations in focus and scope: Ireland, Australia and the US. In Australia (Science in Australia Gender Equity- SAGE) and the United States (STEM Equity Achievement - SEA Change), the program is still in the pilot stage. Australia focuses on STEM fields. The US version has increased the scope of underrepresented groups to include persons with disabilities and racialized populations, and will focus on all areas of the research ecosystem. The adoption of the Athena SWAN model in the US was the subject of a Nature article in September 2017.


Canadian context

The Athena SWAN program will be adapted to the context and realities of Canada, including changing the name and developing a Canadian version of the Charter. Specifically, the Charter will cover the Employment Equity Designated Groups and be relevant to all areas of research, and all post-secondary institutions.

The Government is in ongoing discussions with AdvanceHE to conclude agreements to allow the Government to adapt the Charter to the Canadian context.


Workshops

NSERC, on behalf of the Tri-Councils, hosted workshops on the creation of an Athena SWAN - type award initiative in Canada in various cities (Vancouver, Calgary, Winnipeg, Montréal, Halifax and Toronto) across the country from September 24 to October 4, 2018.

A summary of the discussions held and input received during the workshops will be posted in the coming weeks. Additional input will be requested through specific roundtables to be organized in the coming months.


Invitation for comments

As committed to in Budget 2018, the Government of Canada will be adopting an Athena SWAN initiative in Canada, adapted to the Canadian context and reflecting the comments brought forth by post-secondary institutions in Canada. Canadians are encouraged to share their views and ideas about the Athena SWAN initiative with NSERC and Minister Duncan.

Written comments should be sent to: consultations@nserc-crsng.gc.ca

In order to add to the transparency of the consultation process, NSERC may make public some or all of the responses received or may provide summaries in its public documents. Therefore, parties making submissions are asked to clearly indicate the name of the individual or the organization that should be identified as having made the submission. Submissions should preferably be provided electronically in PDF format or in plain text to facilitate posting.

In order to respect privacy and confidentiality, when providing your submission, please advise whether you:

  • consent to the disclosure of your submission in whole or in part;
  • request that your identity and any personal identifiers be removed prior to publication;
  • wish any portions of your submission to be kept confidential (if so, clearly identify the confidential portions).

In addition, please note that information received throughout this submission process is subject to the Access to Information Act and the Privacy Act. Should you express an intention that your submission, or any portions thereof, be considered confidential, NSERC will make all reasonable efforts to protect this information.


Contact

To send your comments or questions about the Athena SWAN program, or its Canadian adaptation, please email: consultations@nserc-crsng.gc.ca.


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