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Trigger & Institutional Change at Birkbeck

18 July 2018

Trigger & Institutional Change at Birkbeck

Presentation to the National Athena Swan Committee

Dublin, June 21 2018 by the TRIGGER team (Professor Colette Henry, Ms Jeanne Le Roux, Professor Helen Lawton Smith)

A legacy of Birkbeck’s participation in the EU TRIGGER Transforming Institutions by Gendering Contents and Gaining Equality in Research (2014-2017) project is to inform thinking and practice beyond the home institution. The applied project – a partnership between institutions in the UK, Czech Republic, France, Italy and Spain –considered and developed initiatives to foster organisational change by promoting the role of women in research and academia, not only in STEM subjects but also in a broad range of disciplines.

TRIGGER played a key role in Birkbeck’s application for an Athena SWAN bronze award. On June 21 2018, the TRIGGER team shared their experiences of the Athena SWAN process with the Irish National Athena SWAN Committee in Dublin. This committee is the umbrella organisation for Irish Universities and Institutes of Technology which are required to gain at least Athena SWAN Bronze award to be eligible for national research funding.

Helen Lawton Smith focused on the main lessons learned from TRIGGER and Birkbeck’s Athena Swan experience:

  • Principle of inclusivity – academic and professional staff, junior through to senior colleagues
  • Data collection – not just statistical benchmarking data but also understanding different perspectives on key career transition points
  • SMART Actions – priorities (quick wins and longer term institutional change); Who does what? Measuring effectiveness
  • Evaluation – how real is the culture change in each institution? How is institutional learning embedded in the Athena SWAN implementation process?

Jeanne Le Roux and Colette Henry focused on three of the nine Birkbeck Actions that were particularly relevant to the Irish context: Role Models, Leadership and Networking.

Role models

Videos of women, including those in key leadership roles, reflect on their professional experience and present insights into how careers develop. Gilly Gambardella (administrator) Baroness Joan Bakewell (Birkbeck President) were shown as examples. (See Birkbeck leaders speak videos:


Women have different needs during their career progression. The key to institutional change is sustainability; institutions need to be accountable for commitments made in the Athena SWAN process. Training and career development activities are critical.


Networks are important for career advancement; a powerful instrument to establish internal and external connections. They provide an opportunity to discuss with experts and peers; exchange knowledge and experiences and to network. The TRIGGER experience is that networking events need to be built around an important theme and include interesting and relevant expert panelists. Some of the networking and panel events organized by TRIGGER included the following:

  • Improving gender equality in work: What can we learn from London’s business & policy organisations? March 2015
  • Improving gender equality in career development in STEMM disciplines: What can we learn from academia and the corporate sector? November 2016
  • Gender inequality in academic community bodies: Causes and possible solutions March 2017
  • Gender and career development: Building on the TRIGGER experience June 2017

Feedback from these events indicated clear benefits to both the participants and the expert panelists. Participants reported that the events facilitated introductions between junior and senior women academics, and provided opportunities to meet new people. The panelists indicated that they learned a lot from the events and expanded their own networks. All indicated that the networking afterwards was “the best bit.”

The presentation concluded by summarising the benefits of TRIGGER-styled networking events as part of a HEI’s Athena Swan process.


See Also

Celebrating Birkbeck’s TRIGGER project