Last November, The University Observer reported on UCD’s gender imbalance problem, specifically relating to the lack of women in senior-level staff positions. 

At the time, only 30% of UCD Heads of School were women and only 24% of UCD full professors were women. The target is a 40% balance. It is unclear whether these figures have increased since then, as faculty promotion statistics for 2018 are not yet available to view. However, several more schools have been awarded the Athena SWAN bronze award for their gender equality action plans. 

Gender imbalance in the university has been improving in other ways, albeit slowly. On 10 October 2019, UCD announced that the UCD School of Medicine, UCD School of Biology and Environmental Science and UCD College of Engineering and Architecture (made up of a further six Schools) had officially received Athena SWAN bronze awards. The Athena SWAN Award was established in 2015 to identify barriers to equality in universities and to promote the advancement of women’s careers in higher education and research

In total, twelve UCD Schools, encompassing 1350 faculty and staff and 10,000 students, have now achieved Athena SWAN recognition for delivering on their equality action plans. Securing the Athena Swan Bronze award is central to the university’s objective to ‘attract and retain an excellent and diverse cohort of students, faculty and staff’ and entitles UCD to apply for research funding from Science Foundation Ireland, the Irish Research Council and the Health Research Board. 

As part of the development of the next Gender Equality Action Plan, the Athena SWAN event was held on 7th October 2019. Dr Rhona Mahony gave a talk on being a woman in leadership and ensuring people are included, feel safe, feel that they belong and that their contribution matters. 

There has never been a female president of UCD in the university’s history. A government task force was formed to work on gender equality in third level institutions and their report was released in late 2018. The gender equality taskforce estimated that, at the current pace of change, it could take up to 20 years to achieve a gender balance minimum of 40 per cent women at professor level. 

The task force said that dramatic steps are needed to speed up the process and to ensure women occupy a higher percentage of leadership positions. Shortly after the report, the Government pledged to fund dozens of women-only professorships up until 2020 to help “eradicate gender equality” in higher education. 

The task force also said that achieving gender equality is “neither linear nor guaranteed, and the rate of improvement at senior levels in HEIs internationally is extremely slow”. In an attempt to accelerate the closing of the gender gap, funding for universities is now somewhat linked to diversity targets, which has acted as an economic incentive to increase equality in third level institutions. 

The task force recommended implementing a requirement that all colleges set one, three and five-year targets for the promotion and recruitment of academic, professional, management and support staff. University College Dublin has adhered to this requirement through the new Equality, Diversity and Inclusion Strategy and Action Plan 2018-2025. 

The new strategy and action plan, launched in March 2019, is aimed at creating an environment which ‘promotes equality and reaps the benefits of diversity and inclusion’. 

At the time of the launch, UCD President Professor Andrew Deeks said: “We want to ensure that employees and students can thrive in UCD, able to participate fully in their work and study, in a respectful environment where they can reach their full potential.” 

“This strategy won’t be achieved by any one particular action but rather through the implementation of many smaller actions, all of which will contribute to UCD being a great place to work, learn and develop,” he said. 

One such action included a further number of schools aiming to achieve Athena SWAN recognition, as well as the promotion of the Aurora Leadership Development Programme, an innovative training programme aiming to encourage women in academic and professional roles to think of themselves as leaders and develop their skills and potential. Other planned actions include establishing Vice-Principals for Equality, Diversity and Inclusion in each of the Colleges, to incorporate EDI into coaching and mentoring programmes and to mainstream EDI into various non-EDI training events, e.g. UCD Festival. 

The EDI strategy and action plan aims to “promote a culture of dignity, respect and wellbeing for all, and eliminate all forms of discrimination.”