A Made-in-Canada Athena SWAN

Published: August 09, 2018
Diversity | Equity | Inclusion | Science Policy | STEM
SPE Café in Dec 2017, a trainee consultation on Breaking Gender Barriers in STEM

On Tuesday, August 9 afternoon, NSERC hosted an online briefing on its progress on bringing Athena SWAN to Canada. In case you missed it, here are some of the key takeaway points:

Made-in-Canada Athena SWAN model is under development

  • The Athena SWAN initiative is a blending of the work of the Athena project, an initiative to promote women in STEM careers, and the Scientific Women’s Academic Network (SWAN). Since its inception in the UK, the Athena SWAN model has been adapted and implemented in Ireland, Australia, and the United States.
  • Government of Canada is involved in ongoing discussions with AdvanceHE to acquire licensing agreement needed to use their materials and expertise.
  • NSERC has taken the lead but this is a Tri-Council initiative
  • Canada’s version of Athena SWAN will prioritize intersectionality, covers all employment equity designated groups (women, people with disabilities, Indigenous peoples, visible minorities), as well as the LGBTQ2+ community. Other underrepresented groups such as language minorities and men in the nursing profession could be considered as well.

Post-secondary institutions will apply for Athena SWAN awards

  • Post-secondary institutions will apply for Athena SWAN awards, which are certifications in recognition of the commitment to and implementation of practices that advance equity, diversity, and inclusion (EDI). These awards have no dollar value.
  • If not yet ready to apply for an award, institutions can sign on and endorse the Athena SWAN charter of principles without submitting an application.
  • There are 3 levels of awards:
  • Bronze: all institutions will apply for this award first. Requires demonstration of EDI best practices with 2–3 years of data, identification of challenges within institution’s unique environment, and implementation of specific, measurable, agreed, realistic, and time-bound (SMART) action plans.
  • Silver: Requires meeting bronze criteria and further demonstrate result and impact of action plans.
  • Gold: Requires meeting bronze and silver criteria, serving as beacon of best practices in sector, and having influence on other institutions.
  • Each institution’s application will be peer-reviewed in the context of its unique environment and circumstances, not compared to other institutions.
  • Once an institution has been successfully received the Bronze award, individual faculties/departments within the institution can also apply for Athena SWAN awards.

NSERC is seeking input from all members of the academic community

  • NSERC will be hosting workshops in late Sept/early Oct 2018 for broader consultation and discussion. Representatives from AdvanceHE will be present. These will be open to all members of the academic community (including students and post-doctoral fellows). Dates and locations TBA.
  • Trainee organizations and societies are encouraged to send in recommendations, provide feedback, and attend consultations.

We encourage trainees to get engaged! Send your ideas, comments, questions, and recommendations to consultations@nserc-crsng.gc.ca


Recognizing the importance of EDI initiatives in STEM, Science & Policy Exchange organized a consultation with mostly female students and post-doctoral fellows in Dec 2017. Participants were invited to reflect on the gender barriers they have experienced or observed during their training, as well as obstacles they anticipate facing as they pursue their careers. A report was generated from these discussions, and feature recommendations on how to break gender barriers in STEM.