March 25, 2024

University of Limerick: a leader in Gender Equality

As a young institution, University of Limerick (UL) takes great pride in its efforts to advance equality, a mission that has been systematically pursued since 2015 through the University Gender Equality Action Plans (GEPs) and continuing today with the expansion of this approach across all university functions through our Human Rights, Equality, Diversity, and Inclusion (HREDI) strategy for 2023–2027.

The establishment of the HREDI Unit in 2021 solidified UL’s reputation as a trailblazer in embedding EDI principles throughout the institution. This is exemplified by UL groundbreaking achievement as the first Irish Higher Education Institution to earn an Athena Swan Silver Institution Award and the implementation of our values-driven strategy.

The Athena Swan charter, administered by AdvanceHE in the UK, was introduced to the Irish HEA sector in 2015 with a primary focus on advancing women’s careers in STEM fields where there was a notable absence of women in senior academic roles.

Since then, it has broadened its scope to encompass all academic disciplines, Professional & Managerial Support Units, and the inclusion of transgender staff and students.

The Athena Swan Ireland 2021 charter framework further expanded its objectives, empowering higher education institutions to enhance capacity for evidence-based equality work across all equality grounds, fostering sustainable and impactful outcomes.

When UL first achieved its Bronze Institution Award in 2015, 81% of professorial positions in Irish universities were held by men.

At the same time, women constituted 62% of professional, managerial and support (PMS) staff, yet 72% of the highest-paid PMS staff were men.

Today, at UL, women comprise 40% of Professor-level positions, marking a remarkable 146% increase from 13 in 2019 to 35 currently, along with a 28% rise in our Full Professor levels, demonstrating a 33% representation of women at this level.

Through process improvement, training and targeted initiatives UL has strengthened the pipeline of female academics towards our target of 40% female representation at full professorial level.

Fig 1 Numbers of Full Professors in UL

This success was made possible through robust governance and a dedication to forward-thinking transformative initiatives such as the Research Grant for Returning Academic Carers and the Preparing for Academic Advancement Programme, funded by the HEA Gender Equality Enhancement Fund.

This programme has supported 72 senior academic women, pairing them with senior Full Professorial mentors from various institutions within the Higher Education sector to provide personalised support in preparing their promotion portfolios.

Additionally, there has been a notable rise in female representation at the senior Professional Managerial and Support (PMS) level, with women now comprising 45% of this cohort.

All academic departments within UL have now recipients of Athena Swan awards, with three of them achieving Silver School/ Department status – Kemmy Business School, Department of Physics and Department of Mathematics & Statistics.

Our strides in Gender Equality have evolved to encompass Intersectionality, as outlined in our strategy.

Fig 2: UL Journey in Athena Swan

Aligning UL human rights, equality, diversity, and inclusion objectives with Priority 5.2.1 of the UL@50 Strategic Plan – Empowering our People – and UL sustainability goals ensures that equity, inclusivity, and diversity are fundamental principles ingrained in the institution’s operations, rather than ‘an add on’.

This clearly demonstrates the University commitment and dedication to embedding HREDI within UL’s governance structures and Key Performance Indicators (KPIs). These values have been embraced throughout UL, fostering a collaborative working and learning environment that empowers all staff and students to realise their full potential.

UL was one of just three institutions in Ireland to secure funding for four Professorial posts under the Senior Academic Leadership Initiative (SALI), spearheaded by the former Minister of Higher Education, Mary Mitchell O’Connor, to address the notable absence of female professors in STEM fields. In securing these positions, the institution pledged €8.4 million in matching funds.

  1. First female President in Ireland – Professor Kerstin Mey 2021 – Pioneering EDI Leadership – President Chair of EDI Committee – With the establishment of the HREDI Office – Appointed Inaugural Director Human Rights – EDI March 2021
  2. First Athena Swan Silver Institution Award 2023 (outside of the UK & Globally) and the first to do so successfully utilising the New Athena Swan Ireland Charter encompassing the wider EDI Agenda.
  3. First Department Silver Athena Swan Award in Ireland – Department of Physics (2022)
  4. First Business School & Mathematics & Statistics Department in the country to be awarded AS Silver
  5. First Institution to launch our Human Rights, EDI Strategy incorporating our obligations under the Public Sector Duty utilising the IUA VPEDI Values Framework.
  6. Leading the Way – From 5 AS Awards in 2018 to 16 in 2023 across 26 departments
  7. First Institution to implement a Values-Based Innovative Human Rights EDI Strategy in 2023 launched by the Chief Commission IHREC.
  8. First Institution to introduce an innovative Research Grant for Returning Academic Carers Addressing the Leaky Pipeline for women – in 2020. Over €1.5m fund providing protected research time to academic carers returning from over 20 weeks carers leave to catch up on their research supporting them with successful promotions applications. To date 73 grants have been approved.
  9. The first institution to lead on a sector wide programme for women providing senior Professorial mentors (men & women) to 72 participants – three Cohorts – Preparing for Academic Advancement Programme.

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