UCL Queen Square Institute of Neurology


Gender Equity and Athena Swan

The IoN is committed to building an equitable community where everyone can thrive. We want to use the Athena Swan Charter framework to drive our Equality, Diversity and Inclusion strategy.

What is Athena Swan? 

The Athena SWAN Charter offers a framework around which institutions and departments can devise a strategic approach to promote cultural and systemic change and tackle gender inequality in Higher Education. Member institutions who sign up to the charter commit to adopting ten guiding principles, and are expected to apply for an Athena SWAN award as recognition of their work towards gender parity. There is evidence that adopting the Athena SWAN Charter supports cultural and behavioural change – not just around gender equality, but equality and diversity in all its forms.

Our Athena Swan journey

Building an equitable and inclusive community is a long journey that requires strategy and commitment from all levels of an organisation. The IoN Athena SWAN Self-Assessment Committee was first established in 2012. The Institute received its first Bronze Award on 2013, followed by an upgrade to Silver in 2015. In December 2019, we submitted an application for the renewal of our Silver award, which was successfully granted in the summer of 2020. Find our 2019 Silver Award Application here.

What does the Athena Swan accreditation process entails and how does it promote equality in our Institute?

An Athena Swan award represents a significant commitment to gender equity, involving a large amount of work in analysing data and developing and delivering action plans that respond to the priorities identified. Three levels of Athena SWAN Awards - Bronze, Silver or Gold - recognise how far an institution/department has come on its journey towards gender equality. The prerequisites vary for each of the award levels, but they all rely on a foundation of:

  • assessment of gender equality in the institution/department, including quantitative (staff and student data) and qualitative (policies, practices, systems and arrangements) evidence and identifying both challenges and opportunities
  • a five-year Action Plan that builds on this assessment, information on activities that are already in place and what has been learned from these
  • the development of an organisational structure, including a self-assessment team, to carry proposed actions forward.

At a Silver Award level a department needs to be able show it has taken action in response to previously identified challenges and demonstrate the impact of these actions. This data-driven methodology embeds a culture of continuous self-assessment, robust data collection and critical review of evidence that promotes transparency and holds departments accountable for change.

At the IoN we are aiming to use the Athena Swan methodology to understand the layers of disproportionated attrition affecting some of our staff and students, and we will devise evidence-based actions to drive positive change. 

To learn more about the Athena SWAN Charter, the self-assessment process, how to apply for an award and the support available to departments at UCL, please visit the UCL Athena SWAN SharePoint website

Who are IoN Athena Swan Leads and what is their role in our department?

The Athena SWAN Leads oversee the progress of our Gender Equity work against the Athena Swan Action plan and provide strategic leadership to advance our Equalities work. 

The Athena Swan Leads seat as Deputy Chairs in the IoN EDI Committee, providing support to IoN's Deputy Director for Equality, Diversity and Inclusion. Learn more about our EDI Committee and our goals

IoN Athena Swan Lead

Dr. Gabriele Lignani


Gabriele Lignani

“I am very honoured to take on the position of Athena Swan co-lead. I am thrilled to continue this important mission and I will work very hard to achieve the goals the Institute has set for next years, such as obtaining the Gold Athena Swan award”. 

IoN Athena Swan Lead

Ms. Laura Allum


Laura Allum

“I am delighted to be joining the Institute of Neurology’s Athena SWAN team as Co-Lead and help drive the delivery of the Athena SWAN Action Plan. I’m passionate about creating inclusive work environments that celebrate diversity and look forward to working with colleagues to promote these values across the Institute.”

Key progress made since the last award

Since our 2015 Athena SWAN Award we expanded the number of women participating in our Mentoring Scheme and have implemented Promotion Workshops. As a direct impact we saw a record increase in the number of applications to promotion: from 25 in 2015 to 131 in 2019, of which 41% were from female colleagues. This was followed by a 400% increase in successful female promotions (10 in 2015 compared to 52 in 2019).

Currently, 55% of our Heads of Research Department are women (compared to 22% in 2015) - a value that is more reflective of the gender ratio in our Institute (Academic/Research staff: 51.2% Female to 48.8% Male).

The number of female academics promoted to Professor have been steadily increasing over the past years. In 2020, we saw 100% record of success for candidates for senior promotions and welcomed 5 new female Professors (representing 50% of the newly appointed Professors in this senior promotion round).

As part of our commitment towards making career progression criteria transparent and fair, the Athena SWAN Committee developed a new appraisal checklist which includes promotion as a mandatory discussion item during appraisals. This example of good practice was regarded as a beaconing initiative and has been adopted throughout the entire Faculty of Brain Sciences, thus impacting 2000 women and 2400 men across the Faculty. 

In an effort to tackle bullying and harassment, and to foster an inclusive and respectful work culture, we are ensuring our staff complete UCL Taking the Lead training (99% of Professors and 95% of all PIs) and UCL Where Do You Draw the Line training (50% of all staff and PhD students). 

Main areas we need to improve

While much has been achieved in the past five years, we recognise that more needs to be done in our Institute. Specifically:

  • Increase the proportion of female staff in academic positions from 25% (2017/18) to 40% in 2023/4.
  • Improve our understanding of intersectionality and develop specific actions to progress.
  • Embedding career support initiatives for all staff groups, including Professional and Support staff mentoring and our established Academic mentoring programmes.
  • Improve awareness and procedures to address bullying and harassment. 
  • Review IoN workload model and modify appraisal process to make sure workload allocation is discussed and evaluated.

What was our strategic focus for 2021?

The five-year Action Plan submitted in our 2019 Silver Application will guide our work over the next years. However, the Athena SWAN Action Plan should be an organic document, able to accommodate to novel challenges and needs.

One of the areas of focus in 2021 was understanding the impact COVID-19 and the national lockdown had in our community of researchers and our support staff, and devising actions to mitigate this impact where possible. 

Furthermore, the IoN is committed to broaden the remit of its Equality, Diversity and Inclusive work. As such, one of the areas for focus in 2021 is in understanding the intersection between gender and ethnicity in students' experience and in career progression in the IoN.

What will we focus on in 2022?

In 2022, our main focus will be addressing Research Culture and Mental Health in the Institute of Neurology.

Read more about our 2022 strategic focus here

If you would like to have more detail or information about our Athena SWAN achievements and initiatives, please contact our IoN EDI Project Manager Dimitrios Zachos