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Staff member Karen Tweddle

In celebration of Women@Imperial week and International Women’s Day 2021, Karen Tweddle, Director, Education Quality at the Business School and member of the Business School’s Athena Swan committee, discusses the work of the group and why the School is committed to supporting female students and staff.

Why is the work of the Athena Swan Charter so important?

The Athena Swan Charter is a framework which is used across the globe to support and transform gender equality within higher education and research. Established in 2005 to encourage and recognise commitment to advancing the careers of women in science, technology, engineering, maths and medicine employment, the Charter is now being used across the globe to address gender equality more broadly, and not just barriers to progression that affect women.

Athena Swan provides a framework for self-assessment and action planning. It follows a three-tier award system of bronze, silver and gold and aims to recognise, promote, and celebrate good practice. Imperial College Business School was one of the first business schools to receive a bronze-level award in 2016, following the expansion of the Charter to include arts, humanities, social sciences, business and law.

Within the Business School, we aspire to providing a working environment that empowers all staff to reach their full potential. Gender equity has been present as a key pillar of the School’s Strategy since 2014.

It is more than an accreditation stamp and a tick-box exercise. We have a focused and lengthy action plan, including some initiatives that are just common sense and that we should all be doing to encourage equity of treatment for all.

What have been the changes and successes of the committee's work?

A lot has changed over the last five years.  Female role models are now far more visible in the School: from the brochures that we use to recruit students, to articles in School publications and on the website, to the portraits we display in our building - Women at Imperial Portraits. We make sure that when we have a speaker series that women are represented, when we are shortlisting and interviewing that panels include gender representation and that we have a minimum of 30% gender representation on all School Advisory Boards and Committees. 

We are working hard to provide a supportive environment for staff, such as introducing policies to enable faculty going on parental leave to be assigned the same teaching upon their return, providing teaching assistant support for junior faculty approaching the end of their probation and encouraging staff meetings and events to take place between family-friendly hours.

We have introduced unconscious bias and active bystander training for staff and the School has introduced a compulsory ‘Working in Diverse Organisations’ module for all students, for which we have just won Gold at the 2021 AMBA Teaching Excellence Awards.

We celebrate inclusivity and have created an annual teaching excellence award for inclusive teaching and a Dean’s Community Award for students for Inclusive Business.

How is the committee supporting the International Women’s Day values of ‘Choose to Challenge’ this year?

Dame Inga Beale

We are very pleased to be running a Joan Woodward Memorial Lecture on 18 March 2021, with speaker Dame Inga Beale.

Joan Woodward was only the second woman to hold a Chair at the College when she was appointed Professor of Industrial Sociology in 1970. She became one of the world’s foremost organisation theorists and was much sought after as a consultant and a commentator, and epitomised the spirit of the College in its commitment to the application of ideas to practice.

Our speaker will be Dame Inga Beale, who became CEO of Lloyds of London in 2014 and was the first female to hold the post in its 326-year history. Dame Inga was the first leader to move the company from paper-based to digital. And she was openly bisexual. But while Beale is a pioneer today, it was a status not easily won, with much of her early career spent hiding part of herself or trying to belong. That journey shaped her understanding of ‘inclusivity’ and how crucial it is for both an individual – and a business – to flourish.

Everything we do is consistent with the Choose to Challenge ethos. Our Athena Swan work consistently identifies and challenges gender bias and inequity.

What is the next priority for the Business School?

Our priority is to increase the number of female faculty within the School.  The School has grown considerably over the last 5 years with an increase in overall faculty numbers, however our percentage of female faculty has remained roughly the same. We also do not have enough senior female faculty.  Again, this is an issue across the sector but we need to do more to attract talented female faculty to join us and we have a working group creating an action plan to address this.

What more can the higher education sector do to support women?

We need to attract more women on to our MBA programmes and Finance Suite of programmes. Our student body as a whole is composed of approximately 50% female students, but this is not the case in our MBA and Finance programmes. This is sector-wide as can be seen in the Financial Times ranking league tables.

We are a member of the Forté Fellows Programme which aims to increase the number of women applying to and enrolling in MBA programmes and we offer over £1 million in scholarships to talented female applicants every year. Imperial is also a member of the 30% Club, which offers several scholarships to improve the representation of women on graduate management education and executive programmes.

Find out more about the work of Athena Swan at Imperial.


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