Exploring gender equality in Irish higher education: Qualitative case-study research into the response to, and process of, Athena SWAN

Project Overview and Aims

GendeResearchIreland is a four-year fellowship research project hosted by ISS21 and conducted by Dr Monica O’Mullane, a Research Fellow funded by the EC Marie Skłodowska-Curie Individual Fellowship (Career Restart Panel) programme. GendeResearchIreland is exploring gender equality in Irish higher education through qualitative research on the Athena SWAN Charter, launched in the UK in 2005 and managed there by Advance HE. It is a gender equality programme which seeks to promote good practice in recruiting, retaining and promoting women in science and research. Athena SWAN was introduced to the Irish higher education sector in 2015, coordinated in the Republic of Ireland by the Higher Education Authority (HEA). It has been designated a central role in addressing gender inequalities in Irish higher education, as recommended in the The Report of the Expert Group: HEA National Review of Gender Equality in Irish Higher Education Institutions (HEIs) (2016) (Expert Group Report) “as a useful tool in assisting institutions in changing their organisational culture” (page 17). The Expert Group Report recommended that Athena SWAN award attainment is a requirement for research funding eligibility; HEIs in Ireland could potentially lose access to research funding if they do not achieve the awards in a set timeframe.

Within this context, GendeResearchIreland will explore the change processes instigated by the Athena SWAN Charter programme in three cases (three Irish higher education institutions). The project seeks to understand the role, position and perception of Athena SWAN within Irish higher education. The research will look in particular at how Athena SWAN is being adopted and utilised in higher education, in an Irish context, how institutions respond to the change process implied in the initiative, and why the processes of Athena SWAN vary in different contexts. Monica is working with Dr Caitríona Ní Laoire as mentor, who was also the Irish PI on the multi-country FP7 funded GENOVATE (Transforming Organisational Culture for Gender Equality in Research and Innovation) project, in which Monica also participated, as scientific coordinator of the Slovak partner team.

As is the norm within the work of a Marie Skłodowska-Curie Fellowship, Monica is engaged in a number of other activities, such as the ISS21 Genders, Sexualities and Families (GSF) Cluster reading group, meeting three/ four times a year, as well cofounding with Dr Caitríona Ní Laoire the ISS21 Gender and the Academy Research Group within the GSF Research Cluster. This Research Group is formed partly with the post-Genovate Research Group along with others in the institution who are working on and/ or passionate about the topic of gender equality issues in science and research within a higher education sectoral context.

Project Outputs & Work in Proress
  • O’Mullane, M. (2021) ‘Developing a theoretical framework for exploring the institutional responses to the Athena SWAN Charter in higher education institutions (HEIs)- A feminist institutionalist perspective,’ Irish Journal of Sociology, Online First
  • O’Mullane, M. (2021), ‘Maintaining, Challenging or Disrupting the Status Quo? Exploring the Institutional Response to a Gender Equality Programme (Athena SWAN) in one Irish University’, Gender Equality Certification: Lessons Learnt and Future Developments, Centre for Diversity Policy Research and Practice, Oxford Brookes University, 25th February 2021.
  • 'Why are There More Men in Senior Management?' presented as part of the Pint of Science Ireland Festival, Cork, 21st May 2019. In this presentation, Dr O’Mullane discussed her research and talked about her own career journey. Pint of Science is a global initiative which bring researchers into communities to talk about their research to a largely lay audience. Further details available here
  • In November 2019 Dr O’Mullane, on behalf of GendeResearchIreland, invited Professor Uduak Archibong to speak with the UCC community on the topic of Institutionalising Gender Equality.  Monica also shared some initial reflections from her own research on Athena SWAN. Further information on the event is available here
  • GendeResearchIreland was showcased at Cork Discovers 2019, along with other ISS21-hosted research projects.  Cork Discovers is part of European Researchers’ Night, which ran across 27 countries on the night of Friday, September 27. Further details are available here  
Project Funding and Duration:

Funded under Horizon 2020, EC Marie Skłodowska-Curie (MSCA) Individual Fellowship Programme, from 2018 - 2022.


For information on the project contact Dr. Monica O'Mullane, 

Details on Dr Mullane's research interests and work are available here



Dr Monica O'Mullane and Professor Uduak Archibong and at the Institutionalising Gender Equality seminar 15 Nov. 2019.

Institute for Social Science in the 21st Century (ISS21)

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