President's Updates

Athena SWAN Success

Dear Colleagues,


You may already have heard this week’s news of UCC’s success in earning three School-level Athena SWAN Bronze awards.  The Schools of Chemistry, Pharmacy and Biological, Earth & Environmental Sciences were the first UCC Schools to participate in Athena SWAN department accreditation. We are delighted that all three have been successful on their first attempt, exceeding success rates for both Irish and UK HEIs. 


Departmental Bronze Awards are a crucial addition to our University level Bronze award, because they help embed the message that engaging gender equality and diversity at a local level is everyone’s right and responsibility. To further advance gender equality and apply for a Silver University level award, half of our departments will have to have gained a Bronze award, and one department has to have gained a silver award.


My congratulations to the Head of each School,  Prof. Justin Holmes (Chemistry), Prof. Sarah Culloty (BEES) and Prof. Stephen Byrne (Pharmacy), and to their local Athena SWAN leads, whose hard work and committed leadership of their School teams underpins these successes:  Dr. Abina Crean (Pharmacy), Prof. John Wenger (Chemistry), and Prof. Astrid Wingler (BEES). I also congratulate Prof. John O’Halloran, Deputy President and Registrar and chair of UCC’s Athena SWAN Steering Group, and his recent predecessor, Prof. Caroline Fennell, under whose stewardship these successful applications were submitted.


I wish each School success in implementing their ambitious plans for gender equality and encourage other Schools and Departments to contact the Equality, Diversity and Inclusion Unit (incorporating the Athena SWAN team) to join those already putting together a departmental application.  The actions our successful schools have planned for the next three years, which you can read on the School websites shortly, are devoted to improving both the environment and the way we operate so that everyone can thrive. These and other local efforts to engage equality, diversity and inclusion with the assistance of the EDI Unit have my continued support.


Yours sincerely,

Professor Patrick G. O’Shea


11th May 2018

Affirmation of Membership of Athena SWAN Charter, April 2017

International Women's Day 2017


Today is International Women’s Day, a day to celebrate the achievements of women and to commit to action to accelerate gender equality.

Here in UCC, our Athena SWAN process has provided the framework for much of our recent work on gender equality, building on foundations laid by the FP7-funded GENOVATE project and supported by UCC’s Equality Committee. UCC’s three-year Athena SWAN action plan maps out ambitious targets for the next three years. I am pleased to share with you here key steps taken to date, and our progress so far.

A new Equality, Diversity and Inclusion Unit at UCC

First, in the spirit of International Women’s Day, I am very pleased to announce plans for a new Equality, Diversity and Inclusion Unit at UCC.


Led by a Director who will be based in the office of the Senior Vice President Academic & Registrar, the new Unit will provide a robust infrastructure for equality initiatives at UCC, lead on policy development and implementation, coordinate the provision of equality-related services and functions and promote equality across all of the University’s functions.


Equality, diversity and inclusion are core values, critical to the University’s mission as an educational institution. UCC’s new EDI Unit will help promote these values in practical, tangible ways that enrich the university community and support our work.

Athena SWAN: Progress to Date

We have improved supports for women employees who are pregnant or returning from maternity leave, and for working parents, and are phasing in -

  • Cover for maternity leave for administrative and support staff
  • Cover for research staff on maternity leave
  • A €5,000 grant for academic staff returning from maternity leave for teaching or research assistance.


In addition:

  • HR Director Barry O’Brien yesterday circulated information about new HR initiatives for managing maternity leave, including coaching on maternity transition and guidelines and coaching for managers.
  • UCC now offers car-pooling reserved spaces, or equivalent arrangements, to pregnant women from the 28th week of pregnancy, across all campus sites.


Work is underway in other key areas:

  • We have committed to achieving a minimum of 40% of both men and women on UCC’s strategic decision-making bodies. Based on a review of membership of its Committees, Academic Council has, to date, endorsed proposals for –
    • Colleges to maintain panels of qualified and experienced candidates, male and female, irrespective of grade, who are available to fill decision-making functions when called on by AC.
    • Exploring new mechanisms for identifying Committee Chairs, including considering new Deputy Chair roles, to improve gender balance and support succession planning.
    • A review of academic promotions schemes is underway; its terms of reference incorporate Athena SWAN action plan commitments to:
      • Gender balance on promotions boards (LPEB, PPB)
      • Mandatory gender equality training for promotions boards, Heads of Schools
      • Clearer guidelines for decision-makers on how to take into account periods of leave and part-time work arrangements, including maternity and other family related leave and career breaks
      • UCC is the site for one of four pilot initiatives being undertaken to implement the new statutory duty on all public bodies to promote equal treatment and human rights. This initiative is being undertaken with the support of the Irish Human Rights and Equality Commission.
      • A draft gender recognition policy is close to completion, to support staff and students who are transitioning to a new gender identity.
      • UCC continues to participate in the GLEN Diversity Champions initiative to support LGBT inclusive workplaces and is committed to participating in the Workplace Equality Index awards in 2018.


For my own part, I will host UCC’s alumnae at an annual public symposium to reflect on achievements and challenges in improving equality on campus and beyond. Separately, a photographic exhibition highlighting the achievements of UCC alumnae is being planned for later this year.


In the spirit of celebration and action, I wish you the best for International Women’s Day.


Professor Patrick G. O’Shea



Professor Caroline Fennell

Senior Vice President Academic & Registrar

Athena SWAN - Bronze Award 2016

Dear Colleagues,

As you may already be aware, the Equality Challenge Unit (“ECU”) announced today that UCC’s re-application for a bronze Athena SWAN institutional award has been successful. This is very good news, and marks a significant milestone in our plans to improve gender equality in UCC. UCC is the third Irish university to earn the award since the Athena SWAN Charter was introduced in Ireland in 2014, and I commend the members of UCC’s Athena SWAN Steering Group and its chair, Prof. Caroline Fennell, Senior Vice President Academic and Registrar, for their hard work over an extended period, which this award recognizes.

The cornerstone of our application is a comprehensive, three-year action plan. To maintain the bronze award, which is valid for three years, we will have to demonstrate how we have implemented the plan, and assess its impact. ECU’s initial feedback is that our action plan was “highly commended by the awards panel”, including our plans for gender targets for leadership positions, a Fathers at Work policy, and an annual Athena SWAN symposium of female alumni to consider achievements and challenges in improving equality on campus. Work on implementing these and many other actions is already underway, and will continue, overseen by the Athena SWAN Steering Group and supported by the university’s senior management and by me personally.

The award opens the way for Schools and Departments in SEFS and the College of Medicine and Health to proceed with their own applications, and we look forward to supporting these submissions over the next three years. During this period, it is likely that the Athena SWAN Charter in Ireland will expand to cover not only STEMM disciplines but all disciplines in arts, humanities, social sciences and law, and staff in professional and support roles, as well as trans staff and students.

We are committed to pursuing the Athena SWAN agenda and delivering the commitments set out in our action plan, and ultimately, to create a more equal community for all our staff and students. Today’s success marks an encouraging beginning to this work, and we celebrate that achievement.

Dr. Michael B. Murphy

President's Update 9th December, 2015

Dear Colleagues,

The Equality Challenge Unit (ECU) has notified us that our application for a bronze Athena SWAN institutional award was not successful on this occasion.

Since Athena SWAN was launched in Ireland earlier this year, all seven Irish universities and the Royal College of Surgeons have submitted applications for institutional Athena SWAN awards.  Only two have so far been successful (UL and TCD).  These outcomes highlight the high expectations of assessment panels, as well as the extensive groundwork that underpins a successful application.

While the news is disappointing, ECU provided extensive feedback, much of which is positive.  We are pleased that our assessment panel recognised the real progress we've made, and substantially endorsed our action plan.  Our Steering Group, led by Prof. Caroline Fennell, Senior Vice President Academic and Registrar, is focussed on integrating this feedback and continuing work underway to implement UCC's three-year action plan.  We will resubmit our application in 2016. 

The assessment panel described our submission as "good" overall, and commended UCC for demonstrating a "commitment to gender equality [..] through schemes such as the GENOVATE project, Glass Ceiling scheme and the HR Excellence [in Research award]", and initiatives such as the LGBT staff network.  The panel commended the Athena SWAN Steering Group for the "level of senior buy-in" it garnered and for undertaking a "robust self-assessment process that included external consultation."

It noted with approval the "comprehensive [...] collection of data presented" in the application, and commended progress already made, including e.g., our participation in the Aurora leadership development initiative and the Living Equality and Diversity (LEAD) e-learning programme.  The panel cited many specific instances of good practice on which our action plan proposed to build and expand, including support packages linked to maternity leave and return.

Key concerns raised related to the data underpinning our equality action plan and assessment.  This is a common criticism of first-time applicants on which we will be fully debriefed by the Equality Challenge Unit in an in-person meeting in early 2016.  However, we understand it to reflect the degree to which Athena SWAN is data-driven, requiring the analysis and interpretation of extensive demographic data on staff, as well as the review and assessment (from a gender equality perspective) of institutional-level policies and practices that impact upon staff experience.  For most first-time applicants (including UCC), this kind of data has never before been systematically collected or reported on.

The Steering Group will look again and more closely at the data we now have, consider how well we have used the data to identify challenges, and re-evaluate how well our action plan addresses these challenges.  A critical step in this exercise will be consulting within the university community, including in particular research contract staff and post-doctoral researchers.  To this end, the Steering Group is scheduling several, short, focussed themed workshops for January-March, to be held at lunchtime at venues across the university.  We would very much appreciate the participation of staff in these workshops, as your feed-back on proposed actions will be critical to meeting our objective of promoting gender equality in all of UCC's work.

It's also critical that we begin to systematically collect and report on the kind of data needed for Athena SWAN applications and for on-going monitoring of our commitment to promoting gender equality.  We've committed to doing this in our action plan, and are working to ensure the functionality we need will be integrated into planning for HR's CORE systems update, currently underway.

In preparing to re-apply in 2016, our Steering Group is considering a recent proposal from ECU, inviting all Irish HEIs to consider introducing the expanded Athena SWAN Charter in Ireland.  The expanded Charter (introduced in the UK in May 2015) covers not only STEMM disciplines but all disciplines in arts, humanities, social sciences and law, and staff in professional and support roles, as well as trans staff and students.  As this proposal develops, feedback will be solicited across the university; I will keep you updated.

Finally, I would like to thank all colleagues, most particularly those on the Steering Group for their hard work so far.  While we don't yet have an award, we have made real progress in implementing the Athena SWAN Charter, with a robust three-year action plan that we are focussed on implementing.  The work we have begun is critical, and we are determined to deliver on the goals we have set to improve gender equality in UCC.

Dr. Michael B. Murphy


President's Update 4th September, 2015


Our Athena SWAN Steering Group is preparing UCC's application for a Bronze Institutional Athena SWAN Award to be submitted on 30th September.  

The application will present a demographic profile, by gender, of all university staff, including those in administration, research and academic roles. See ASPresidentsUpdate15.09.04 for a sample of the information we'll present, focussing on the career pipeline for academic staff. 

Athena SWAN aims to address imbalances in STEMM disciplines (i.e. science, technology, engineering, maths, medicine).  In UCC, these disciplines are primarily taught in the Colleges of Medicine and Health (COMH) and Science, Engineering and Food Science (SEFS).

Clearly, gender imbalances in STEMM vary by discipline, sometimes dramatically, and for complex and diverse reasons. Our application will present as complete a picture as possible. As I've written before, our student population today is predominately female; our staff are predominately women yet - as this data underscores - our most senior academic leadership positions are predominately filled by men.  The same is true of senior administrative posts.  Diversity in the background of leadership should be a sine qua non.

Through our participation in Athen SWAN, UCC is working to identify barriers to women's progress.  Our Athena SWAN action plan will propose specific, measureable actions to be implemented over teh next three years to begin to remove these barriers.  This will benefit all UCC staff, male and female.

In my next update, I'll describe some key actions from our Athena SWAN Action Plan.

Dr. Michael B. Murphy


Application Update 20th July, 2015


I am writing to update you on progress of UCC's application for a bronze Athena SWAN Institutional Award.

1. Steering Group Activities

The Chair has welcomed three new Steering Group members since my last update:

  • James Upton, Deputy President UCC Students Union
  • Courtney Collins, a doctoral candidate in SEFS
  • Dr. Mark Jessopp, Research Fellow MaREI

These members will bring to the Group insight and experience from the perspective of undergraduate and postgraduate students and post-doctoral researchers. 

The Steering Group has met twice in the last two months, most recently 7th July, and will meet again in August.  Its four working groups are convening more frequently in person and by email. 

The Steering Group working groups are engaged in the self-assessment exercises on which UCC's action plan will be built.  Specifically:

  • They are reviewing quantitative date on staff to identify points of attrition for women, comparing STEMM and non-STEMM disciplines
  • Based on this analysis, they will consider a range of specific insitutional-level activities and policies that influence career progression, both
    • directly (e.g. recruitment, induction, promotion and training policies and practices, maternity, paternity, parental and adoption leave arrangements, flexible work arrangements) and
    • indirectly (e.g. factors influencing institutional culture, including gender profile of senior management teams and across leadership positions, workload model, visibility of women as role models etc)
  • The working groups will consider how well these institutional-level activities and policies address the causes underlying the attrition of women, in academic STEMM careers particularly.
  • Where problems are identified, they will propose specific actions to address them.  Collectively, these actions will constitute UCC's Athena SWAN Action Plan.  The Steering Group will solicit feedback on the draft Action Plan from interested constituents across the university.

2. Outreach Activities

An Athena SWAN webpage is now live on the President's Office section of the UCC website.  It offers information about the Athena SWAN programme and the university's application.  News and regular updates on progress will be posted here.  A Twitter account is at @AthenaSWANUCC

The Athena SWAN project officer has given presentations introducing the initiative to the SEFS College Management Team (4th June), Executive Management Committee of the College of Medicine (11th June) and to all HR staff (11th June).  Presentations to the College of Arts, Celtic Studies and Social Sciences and to the College of Business and Law are being planned, and also to the Governing Body.  Outreach is ongoing to potential Athena SWAN "champions" in individual departments and in the Tyndall National Institute.

3. Your Input 

The Steering Group will solicit feedback on the draft application and action plan as widely as possible, from relevant interested groups across the university.  A short staff survey will be circulated to invite your feedback on specific topics.  Please contact the Project Officer, Ann King, for more information, or with suggestions or to provide your feedback directly at and by phone at 021 490 3091.

Dr. Michael B. Murphy


President's Update 23rd June, 2015


UCC was among the seven Irish universities to sign the Athena SWAN Charter in late 2014, along with the fourteen Institutes of Technology and the Royal College of Surgeons in Ireland.  The six principles of the Charter support good employment practices for women in Science, Engineering, Technology, Mathematics and Medicine (STEMM).  As a Charter member, UCC may now apply for an institutional bronze Athena SWAN award, and a Steering Group, chaired by Professor Caroline Fennell (and on an interim basis by Professor Siobhan Mullally), is overseeing work on an application to submit in September. 

Preparing the Athena SWAN application will give UCC an opportunity to reflect on our progress in promoting gender equality in STEMM and to affirm our achievements; it also provides a constructive framework for introducing organisational and cultural changes that will enhance the working environment for both men and women.

The work of our Steering Group involves two key efforts: first, the Group is overseeing an institutional self-assessment, comprising a comprehensive survey of evidence, both quantitive (staff data) and qualitative (policies, practices, systems and arrangements).  Based on this assessment, the Steering Group will propose a three-year action plan for UCC.  The purpose of the Action Plan will be to promote and embed existing good practice and, where opportunities for improvement and progress are identified, to specify targeted, measurable actions the university will implement.

The Steering Group has met on four occasions since last October, and a Project Manager (Ann King) has been appointed to support and coordinate its work.  An intense period of work on the application is now underway, involving broad consultation across the university, and a draft of the Steering Group's proposed action plan will be submitted for UMTO approval in late summer.

Dr. Michael B. Murphy


President's Message June 2015

June, 2015.


All members of the academic community should have the same opportunities to contribute to the success of UCC and to enjoy personal fulfilment. Diversity in background and in outlook among staff and students is fundamental to establishing and sustaining academic excellence.

In the past, UCC led the way in being among the first universities to admit women students and Queen's College Cork was the first institution in the British Isles to appoint a woman professor.  Our student population today is predominately female; our staff are predominately women yet our most senior academic and administrative leadership positions are predominately filled by men.  Diversity in the background of leadership should be a sine qua non.

In late 2014 I, along with the Presidents of the other universities and of the Institutes of Technology signed the Athena SWAN charter.  The charter is a statement of six principles aiming at equality in the recruitment, retention and progression of women in academic careers in STEMM subjects.  Now, UCC is minded to undergo adjudication of our commitment to and practices in implementation of those principles through applying for a Bronze Institutional Athena SWAN Award.  Our principles must be sustained by policies which are implemented in practice.

Early this year I established a working group to oversee this project, chaired by the Registrar-select, Professor Caroline Fennell to effect this project.  I invite all staff and students of the university to work with Professor Fennell and her group to ensure that UCC is an exemplar in promoting gender balance in all spheres of university life.

A briefing note on progress to date will be shared with you shortly.

Dr. Michael B. Murphy



Athena SWAN

Room 5 Brighton Villas, Ground floor,