by Jane Hillston

Informatics Europe is a membership organization for university departments and research laboratories aiming to create a strong common voice to safeguard, shape and stimulate quality research and teaching in Informatics in Europe. There are currently over 90 member institutions across 25 countries. The organization has a number of working groups, including WIRE, Women in ICST Research and Education, which works to promote actions that contribute to improve gender balance in Information and Communication Sciences and Technologies.

In 2013 WIRE published a booklet entitled “More Women in Informatics Research and Education” and circulated it widely within Europe. The booklet is a compact source of clear and simple advice aimed at deans and heads of department, collecting best practices already implemented at institutions from across Europe. The handy guide makes suggestions of small changes that can have a large impact for a department aiming to recruit, support and encourage female colleagues to get the most from their careers. The booklet is endorsed by the European Commission and features a foreword by Neelie Kroes, who was Vice-President of the European Commission, responsible for the Digital Agenda at the time. The booklet is freely available at the Informatics Europe web site.

When possible WIRE works jointly with ACM-WE, a standing committee of ACM Europe, which has a remit to cultivate and inspire people about the opportunities in computer science and clear pathways throughout Europe for women in computing. In particular, WIRE was proud to sponsor the ACM WomENcourage event that took place in Sweden in September 2015.

To further raise the profile of gender issues, in 2016 WIRE is launching a new award in order to recognize and celebrate the achievements of departments who have taken action to attract, retain and promote women. The Informatics Europe Minerva Informatics Equality Award will be presented for the first time in October 2016. Nominations will be sought in the spring and the closing date will be 1st May 2016. Judged by an international panel, the award will be given to a department that is able to demonstrate benefits to female staff or students through implemented policies and initiatives. On a three-year cycle, the award will focus on different stages of the career pipeline:

  • Encouraging female students to enroll in computer science/informatics degree programmes at undergraduate or postgraduate levels;
  • Supporting the transition for PhD students or postdoctoral researchers into faculty positions;
  • Developing the careers of female faculty, including retention and promotion.

For the inaugural award in 2016 we will focus on initiatives to support the career development of female faculty.

WIRE has also started work on a web resource, which provides links to other organizations and initiatives around the world that can provide support and inspiration for those seeking to improve gender balance within an academic environment. This is an ongoing project but already the resource has more than 20 links to stimulating and informative pages, including national initiatives such as the Athena SWAN awards in the UK.

For over a decade, the Equality Challenge Unit (ECU), has been granting Athena SWAN awards to higher education and research institutions in the UK, and their departments, if they are able to demonstrate commitment to advancing the careers of women in science, technology, engineering, mathematics and medicine (STEMM).

Athena SWAN awards in the UK
The Equality Challenge Unit is a government-funded body which supports universities and other research institutions to build an inclusive culture, promoting diversity and removing barriers to progression and success. The Athena SWAN charter was established in 2005 for STEMM subjects and in May 2015 was expanded to encompass work undertaken in arts, humanities, social sciences, business and law and to promote gender equality more broadly.

Across all disciplines, the existence of the Athena SWAN awards has had a profound impact on the level of awareness of diversity and equality issues in UK universities, particularly when it was suggested that funding bodies would make future awards conditional on the host department holding an award (this has not happened yet). Moreover, a department or institution that achieves an award cannot then rest on its laurels, as awards must be renewed every three years with demonstrable progress against a previously submitted action plan. As a discipline computer science and informatics were a little slower than some disciplines to get involved, but there has been growing interest in recent years and more than 25 computer science/informatics departments now hold awards. The British Computer Society has sought to encourage more departments to increase their engagement in the Athena SWAN process, for example by organising a successful “CignetS” meeting in December 2014 to provide collaborative support for computing departments preparing applications for the first time. Most of the awards in computer science/informatics are currently at the bronze level but there are two silver awards and more aspired to. The model is one of inevitable rivalry and competition between departments of the same discipline, and between disciplines, but academics are naturally competitive and in this case it’s all in a good cause!

Links:
http://www.informatics-europe.org
Women in ICST Research and Education working group:
http://www.informatics-europe.org/working-groups/women-in-icst-research-and-education.html
Booklet: “More Women in Informatics Research and Education”:
http://www.informatics-europe.org/images/documents/more-women-in-informatics-research-and-education_2013.pdf
Equality Challenge Unit: http://www.ecu.ac.uk
Athena SWAN awards: http://www.ecu.ac.uk/equality-charters/athena-swan/

Please contact:
Jane Hillston
University of Edinburgh, Scotland, UK
E-mail: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

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