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Belinda Henwood
UNSW Corporate Communications

UNSW has received the Cygnet Award under Science in Australia Gender Equity (SAGE)’s Athena Swan program 2023.

The University was recognised for progress in Promotions (Academic Career Progression), which marks the next step in UNSW’s path to Silver accreditation.  

The SAGE Athena Swan program is a framework for universities to benchmark their work in gender equity, diversity and inclusion against an international standard. SAGE administers the Athena Swan framework in Australia and the accreditation pathway is tailored to our national context.

UNSW was one of the first universities to sign up to the program when it launched in Australia in 2015. In 2018, the University achieved Bronze Award status in recognition of its work and ongoing commitment to advancing gender equity and diversity in science, technology, engineering, mathematics and medicine (STEMM), where women in Australia are notably under-represented.

Read more: UNSW recognised for advancing gender equality in STEMM 

To achieve the Cygnet Award, UNSW had to demonstrate a strategic commitment and significant progress addressing gender bias since receiving the Bronze Award.

The University’s award submission highlighted a broad range of activities that have contributed to reducing academic promotion as a barrier to gender equity.

Key achievements included increasing the number and rate of women applying for promotion, maintaining high success rates in female promotion at all levels (averaging 86–95 per cent from 2018–2022), and providing demonstrable high-quality support to staff throughout the promotion process.  

The award review panel commended UNSW for delivering actions targeted at not only the applicants, but also supervisors, promotional panels and a wider organisational culture.

UNSW Vice-Chancellor and President, Professor Attila Brungs, said, “UNSW is delighted to have received the Cygnet Award in recognition of our focus on gender equity in academic promotions for STEMM disciplines. This award highlights our University’s commitment to building an inclusive culture throughout the UNSW community, and to breaking down barriers that stand in the way of achieving authentic equity, diversity and inclusion.

“As we strive for SAGE Athena Swan Silver accreditation, the Cygnet Award is a credit to all at UNSW who are committed to transforming representation in STEMM for the benefit of our whole community – within the University and in society more broadly.”

SAGE CEO Dr Janin Bredehoeft congratulated UNSW on the achievement.

“This is such a well-deserved result for UNSW and the team that led its gender equity initiatives. UNSW has stepped up to the challenge of ensuring that a greater proportion of women are applying for senior academic positions in STEMM, despite the lower numbers of women throughout the career pipeline. They’ve also tackled the problem at the root by increasing women’s promotion success rates at junior levels. Their approach shows a commitment to sustainable long-term gains.”

Associate Professor Bruce Watson, Deputy Vice-Chancellor, Equity Diversity & Inclusion (EDI), said, “UNSW is a proud member of the Athena Swan Charter. This achievement reflects our commitments to improving the representation of women at the University, particularly at senior academic levels, and developing a more inclusive culture where all staff can succeed regardless of their gender.

“The Athena Swan program is one of a range of initiatives that contribute to the delivery of UNSW’s 2025+ Strategy – which, under the Social Impact pillar, commits to equality in recruitment, development, retention and promotion, and ensuring no disadvantage on the basis of gender, cultural background, disability or Indigenous background.”

The Athena Swan program team identified academic promotions as the first of five key barriers to gender equity at UNSW. The next areas for development are student pathways (STEMM), flexible work and care, LGBTIQ+ inclusion and workplace culture.

Scientia Professor Fiona Stapleton, Academic Lead of the UNSW Athena Swan initiative, said, “We’re thrilled to be awarded our first Cygnet. Both our Project Team and Self-Assessment Team have been very committed. It’s a pleasure to be involved and to understand the depth of talent and willingness to drive initiatives that really make a difference in terms of recruitment, promotion and career progression.”

UNSW is one of 45 institutions participating in the Athena Swan program. The program is led by the Division of EDI and a dedicated Athena Swan Leadership Group and Self-Assessment Team. Read more about the accreditation program on the EDI website.