13 February 2023
Recording of the week: Setting up the Athena Project
In belated celebration of the International Day of Women and Girls in Science (February 11), this week’s selection comes from Emmeline Ledgerwood, Voices of Science Web Coordinator.
In 2005 the Athena Swan Charter was launched to encourage higher education and research institutions to support the advancement of women working in STEMM (science, technology, engineering, mathematics and medicine). This accreditation scheme is now recognised across the globe as a framework for organisations in all sectors to demonstrate their efforts towards addressing gender equality in the workplace.
The charter was the brainchild of the Scientific Women’s Academic Network (SWAN), a grouping of women scientists from across the UK who had first come together as a result of the Athena project. The Athena Project was set up in 1999 and worked in partnership with universities and leading professional and learned science societies to make a difference to women’s careers in science. Its early work focused on developing mentoring, networks and career development programmes for women scientists, followed by surveys of career progression.
In 2011, Professor Dame Julia Higgins was interviewed by Thomas Lean for the National Life Stories collection ‘An Oral History of British Science’. The full recording and transcript are available online at BL Sounds.
Download Julia Higgins interview transcript
Higgins is a polymer scientist and physicist who pioneered innovative methods to study the structure, organisation and movement of polymers. As a young woman she held research posts in France before joining the Chemical Engineering Department at Imperial College, London, in 1976. Over the course of her forty-year career there, culminating in her position as Principal of the Faculty of Engineering, she also served as Foreign Secretary and Vice-President of the Royal Society and Chair of the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council.
Above: Image supplied by Julia Higgins in 2011.
In this clip, Higgins describes how her own career progression by the mid-1990s gave her a level of influence in the higher education sector that she leveraged to improve the careers of other women in science. The result was the Athena project with its far-reaching legacy for women working in STEMM.
Browse the Voices of Science website to find extracts from interviews with many other women scientists interviewed for National Life Stories at the British Library.