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Positive Action Towards Gender Equality: Evidence from the Athena SWAN Charter in UK Medical Schools


  • Ian Gregory‐Smith


This article provides evidence on the effectiveness of voluntary positive action in addressing inequality between female and male careers. The setting is UK medical schools where two natural experiments are exploited. The first is the introduction of the Athena SWAN charter in 2005, whereby 12 UK universities signed up to the principles of the charter. The second is the announcement in 2011 by the National Institute for Health Research to only shortlist medical schools with a ‘silver’ Athena SWAN award for certain research grants. This second change potentially impacts schools that are further away from silver status more than those that were already close in 2011. While there is a marked improvement of women succeeding in medical schools between 2004 and 2013, early Athena SWAN adopters have not increased female participation by more than other schools whose institution signed up later. In addition, tying funding to Athena SWAN silver status has yet to have an impact on female careers, although medical schools have invested in efforts to achieve silver status. Together, these results emphasize the challenges associated with addressing gender equality through voluntary self‐regulation.

Suggested Citation

  • Ian Gregory‐Smith, 2018. "Positive Action Towards Gender Equality: Evidence from the Athena SWAN Charter in UK Medical Schools," British Journal of Industrial Relations, London School of Economics, vol. 56(3), pages 463-483, September.
  • Handle: RePEc:bla:brjirl:v:56:y:2018:i:3:p:463-483
    DOI: 10.1111/bjir.12252

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    References listed on IDEAS

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    Cited by:

    1. Gamage, Danula K. & Kavetsos, Georgios & Mallick, Sushanta & Sevilla, Almudena, 2020. "Pay Transparency Initiative and Gender Pay Gap: Evidence from Research-Intensive Universities in the UK," IZA Discussion Papers 13635, Institute of Labor Economics (IZA).
    2. Sevilla, Almudena, 2020. "Women in economics: A UK Perspective," CEPR Discussion Papers 15034, C.E.P.R. Discussion Papers.
    3. Danula K. Gamage & Almudena Sevilla, 2019. "Gender Equality and Positive Action: Evidence from UK Universities," AEA Papers and Proceedings, American Economic Association, vol. 109, pages 105-109, May.
    4. Karen Mumford & Cristina Sechel, 2020. "Pay and Job Rank among Academic Economists in the UK: Is Gender Relevant?," British Journal of Industrial Relations, London School of Economics, vol. 58(1), pages 82-113, March.
    5. Colette Fagan & Nina Teasdale, 2021. "Women Professors across STEMM and Non-STEMM Disciplines: Navigating Gendered Spaces and Playing the Academic Game," Work, Employment & Society, British Sociological Association, vol. 35(4), pages 774-792, August.
    6. Marcinko, Andrew J. & Taylor, Chelsey, 2021. "Employee reactions to positive action policies in the United Kingdom: Does the organization’s justification matter?," Journal of Economic Psychology, Elsevier, vol. 87(C).

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