Department of Engineering / News / Department awarded Silver in Athena SWAN scheme

Department of Engineering

Department awarded Silver in Athena SWAN scheme

Department awarded Silver in Athena SWAN scheme

PhD student Charlotte Coles sets up an experiment in the supersonic wind tunnel in the Baker Building.

Positive steps taken by the Department of Engineering to promote a culture in which all staff and students feel valued, respected and supported, have been acknowledged by the Athena SWAN scheme.

Achieving the Silver Award shows potential staff and students that we are committed to creating a supportive and inclusive working environment.

Professor David Cardwell, Head of Department

The Silver Award honours the significant progress the Department has made since it received the Bronze Award in 2013 and recognises the Department’s comprehensive plan to ensure that this progress is sustained.

The Equality Challenge Unit’s Athena SWAN Charter is a national scheme originally established to support and advance women's careers in STEMM subjects – science, technology, engineering, maths and medicine. The scheme was recently expanded to address gender equality more broadly, rather than just focusing on barriers to progression for women.

To better reflect the expansion of the Athena SWAN Charter and help promote inclusivity in the Department more broadly, the Women in Engineering initiative will be known as ‘Engineering Diversity’.  While a focus will remain on improving the experience of women in engineering, it is hoped that Engineering Diversity will encourage more members of the Department to get involved in the initiative.

The Silver Award submission and related initiatives are co-ordinated through the Department’s Athena SWAN Self-Assessment Team (SAT). This group is led by Head of Department, Professor David Cardwell and Deputy Head of Department (Teaching), Dr Claire Barlow, supported by Secretary to the Faculty Board, Madeline McKerchar.

The SAT also includes an academic ‘champion’ from each Division, plus postdoc and student members, who consulted widely about the development of the submission and action plan.

Department achievements that have been officially recognised by the Silver Award include:

  • The appointment of four new female lecturers and a female professor in the past 12 months. This is highly significant given the low proportion of academic women engineers currently in the sector
  • The introduction of a peer mentoring scheme for new researchers which is helping to improve the experience of postdocs
  • An increase in the proportion of women who are admitted to the Tripos and the year-on-year growth in the proportion of women awarded firsts at BA level and distinctions in the MEng
  • The positive impact the Women in Engineering initiative has had on increasing the visibility of female engineers, overcoming subconscious bias and providing role models, as demonstrated by the Inspirational Women Engineers poster competition currently displayed outside the Department’s library.

Professor David Cardwell said: “To achieve the Silver Award, the SAT undertook an honest appraisal of the Department using data from the 2015 staff survey and many other sources plus feedback from staff and students. This enabled the SAT to identify priorities and to produce an action plan to address these challenges.  

“Achieving the Silver Award shows potential staff and students that we are committed to creating a supportive and inclusive working environment. It also enhances our grant-winning potential: some government bodies require research partners to hold a Silver Award – and now we can say that the Department of Engineering is one of them.”

Over the next three years, the SAT will carry out an action plan which aims to continue to improve the working environment for all members of the Department, as well as raising the public consciousness of engineering as an exciting and diverse discipline.  

Some of these goals include:

  • Launching a student ambassador scheme to promote engineering to potential applicants and their advisors
  • Continuing to improve the experience of postdocs and strengthen their sense of community
  • Promoting career progression and ensuring that staff are supported throughout their career
  • Introducing unconscious bias training for selection panels.

All staff and student groups will be represented on the SAT. Feedback or ideas for further actions are welcomed. Email

The Department’s submission and action plan for the Silver Award can be downloaded here.

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