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GendeResearchIreland Symposium: Reflections on Institutionalising Gender Equality in Higher Education

Institute for Social Science in the 21st Century, UCC


From left to right:

Dr Monica O’Mullane, ISS21, UCC; Dr Mariana Szapuová, Comenius University, Bratislava, Slovakia; Professor Fiona Mackay, University of Edinburgh, Scotland; Dr Charoula Tzanakou, Oxford Brookes University, England; Professor Carol Linehan, School of Applied Psychology, UCC; Dr Caitríona Ní Laoire ISS21 & School of Applied Social Studies, UCC.

A symposium bringing together experts, practitioners and activists interested in the topic of embedding gender equality in higher education institutions took place on Monday 14th November 2022 in UCC. The symposium was hosted by the GendeResearchIreland project, funded by the European Commission’s Marie Skłodowska-Curie Action mobility fellowship programme. The event marks the conclusion of the project, finishing December 2022. The project was carried out by Dr Monica O’Mullane, ISS21.

The event was opened by President of UCC, John O’Halloran, followed by speeches from Professor Nuala Finnegan, Chair of the UCC Equality Committee, and Dr Caitríona Ní Laoire, Deputy Director of ISS21 and GendeResearchIreland project mentor.

The topic of embedding gender equality was reflected upon through Dr O’Mullane’s presentation of a snapshot of her research study’s findings. The study, carried out as part of the GendeResearchIreland project, sought to explore the process of embedding gender equality in three Irish universities through the implementation of the Athena SWAN Ireland Charter. Drawing from data collected, primarily from 34 interviews conducted with university staff who are driving the implementation of the Charter, Dr O’Mullane shared findings on the challenges facing staff while embedding gender equality.  An interesting finding shared was on the theme of ‘institutional happy talk’, a term coined by Sara Ahmed in her seminal book ‘On Being Included’ (2013), which refers to “manically positive” (research participant from this study) messaging communicated by staff members when reflecting publicly on their work in rolling out diversity programmes.  Dr O’Mullane’s study confirms the existence and persistence of ‘institutional happy talk’ engaged by staff in senior management roles, raising awareness and affirming the challenges facing staff in Irish universities. Monica suggested that protected space for reflection on actions done or being proposed for embedding gender equality is crucial to meaningful and sustainable action, as well as ensuring dialogue on core concepts underpinning this work, such as gender equality.

This presentation was followed by reflections from the invited panel of international experts, namely, Professor Fiona Mackay (University of Edinburgh, Scotland), Dr Mariana Szapuová (Comenius University, Slovakia) and Dr Charoula Tzanakou (Oxford Brookes University, England).

The discussion and debate following the presentations highlighted the importance and contribution of this research study within the Irish context. Symposium attendees came to UCC from across Irish higher education institutions.  The visual below created by Hazel Hurley captures creatively themes from the day’s discussion.

Following the stimulating seminar hosted by GendeResearchIreland in 2019 with Professor Uduak Archibong (University of Bradford, UK), this symposium was equally provocative, insightful, and highly motivating.

This project has received funding from the European Union’s Horizon 2020 research and innovation programme under the Marie Skłodowska-Curie grant agreement No.750408.

Visual created during the symposium as a creative record of the day’s discussion. Created by Ms Hazel Hurley (

More information is available on the project page of Dr Monica O’Mullane’s website. Feel free to contact Monica directly for further information on the project and outputs at


O’Mullane, M. (2021) ‘Developing a theoretical framework for exploring the institutional responses to the Athena SWAN Charter in higher education institutions- A feminist institutionalist perspective, Irish Journal of Sociology,

O’Mullane, (forthcoming), ‘What do the narratives tell us? Exploring the implementation of the Athena SWAN Ireland Charter,’ Frontiers in Sociology

O’Mullane, M. (forthcoming), Policy Brief, UCD Geary Institute for Public Policy. 

College of Arts, Celtic Studies & Social Sciences

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College Office, Room G31 ,Ground Floor, Block B, O'Rahilly Building, UCC