I have previously suggested that the dreadful Athena Swan Charter should be put out of its misery. For anyone unaware of what the Athena Swan Charter is about it purports to be a ‘ a framework which is used across the globe to support and transform gender equality within higher education’. Belinda Brown has previously exposed the excesses of the Athena Swan in terms of its penetration of a major university, the dangers in promoting equality over excellence and how some subjects already have a surfeit of women to the disadvantage of men.
Initially aimed at ‘advancing the careers of women in science, technology, engineering, maths and medicine’, the rise of the transgender movement has led to mission creep towards the charter ‘now being used across the globe to address gender equality more broadly, and not just barriers to progression that affect women’.
So, not only concerned about the plight of women in these so called STEM subjects, Athena Swan has become another set of shoulders behind the woke battering ram that is demolishing most of what sensible people find reasonable. Thankfully this may be hoisting the Athena Swan Charter by its own petard.
Apparently, the gender (as opposed to biological sex) aspect of the charter has led feminists to complain that data on both are being conflated. Therefore, they begin to lose meaning and, while overrepresenting the overall success of the charter they underrepresent the specific success in relation to women.
The essential problem is that biological males, self-identifying as women, described as ‘transgender women’ will be included in the figures. This means that every Bob who wishes to be referred to as Betty inflates the success of Athena Swan and may be exploiting the charter to climb the greasy academic pole.
It must be assumed that transgender women working in STEM subjects are no stupider than the rest of their colleagues in the university sector and academics tend to suffer from a heady combination of intelligence, ambition and entitlement. What better way for an under-achieving male academic to achieve promotion than to self-identify as a woman?
With any luck the ongoing battle between the feminist and lesbian lobbies with the transgender lobby as exemplified by the recent shocking treatment of Kathleen Stock will tear the Athena Swan charter apart.
If that happens then women working in universities will feel less pressured into ascending to the heights of academia and to being made to feel like failures if they have prioritised having a family over spending long hours in the lab. Those who wish to ascend to the heights will be able to do so safe in the knowledge that they have attained those heights through achievement and not preferential treatment based on their biological sex (or gender).
Moreover, the army of academics—mainly female—who must dedicate their time to the inordinate data gathering, meetings and form-filling required to comply with the Athena Swan charter will be freed to pursue some academic work. This may, in fact, secure for some of them the promotion that has thus far eluded them.
The higher education sector will save thousands of pounds which could be ploughed back into better teaching. Everyone is a winner: universities; women; and students. If the Athena Swan is found upside down in a canal, so much the better.
Roger Watson is a Professor of Nursing