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“We’ve put our hearts into this”- School of Psychology wins gender equality award

Home / More / News / “We’ve put our hearts into this”- School of Psychology wins gender equality award

Published on 10 May 2021

Dr Helen Driscoll
Dr Helen Driscoll

The Athena SWAN Charter, first established in 2005, is a framework which is used across the globe to support and transform gender equality within Higher Education and research.

Sunderland earned an institutional Athena SWAN bronze award in 2019, but Psychology is the first academic department within the University to be individually recognised.

Dr Helen Driscoll, Principal Lecturer and Team Leader for Psychology at the University, said: “We are delighted to find that generally our students see the School of Psychology as a safe and welcoming space, and that staff see it as an inclusive, liberal workplace.

“The award recognises our commitment to gender equality, the good practice we have in place, and the work we are undertaking to further improve. As a School, genuine commitment to equality, diversity and inclusion is absolutely central to our ethos.

“We have put our hearts into this, as well as many hours of work, because we want to advance equality, diversity and inclusion in the School.”

For its Athena SWAN application, the School committed to a four-year action plan focussing on male psychology and the underrepresentation of male psychology and counselling students as well as developing the careers of women and supporting members of other underrepresented groups.

“We also recognise that gender equality issues affect trans students and we provide a safe, friendly and supportive environment for them,” Helen said.

“Equality, diversity and inclusion goes far beyond gender of course, and we have a broad commitment to this, welcoming and supporting all LGBTQIA+ students, BAME students, international students, students coming from non-traditional routes, mature students, students with caring commitments, students with disabilities… and so on.”

So, what advice would Helen give to students who are worried they might not reach their full potential because of their background or gender?

“In my years working in the School of Psychology at Sunderland, I have spoken with many students who have lacked confidence or were worried that they would be held back, for example because they had children, or they had come to university with non-traditional qualifications through a foundation year or access route,” she said.

“However, some of these students have gone on to be some of our most successful alumni. I myself achieved a PhD, which I started with two very young children, and juggling up to three jobs at the same time. I have seen students succeed despite very significant physical disabilities and mental health issues. So, I would say – yes, some of these things can of course be big challenges, but please don’t let it put you off.

“I know from the experience of seeing thousands of students graduate that you can achieve your goals, and the School of Psychology provides a supportive environment in which to do that.”

Justine Gillespie is Equality, Diversity and Inclusion Manager at the University. 

She said: “This award is the result of the concerted efforts within Psychology over the last 18 months. In particular Dr Helen Driscoll who was the Chair of the Self-Assessment Team (SAT).

“It is also important to acknowledge the huge efforts of the whole Psychology SAT in collating and interpreting the data to support Psychology’s determination to achieve gender equality.

“All too often we class gender equality as a women’s issue when, in reality, gender equality is everyone’s issue. But most of the changes proposed by Psychology, such as holding key meetings during core hours or promoting flexible working, end up benefitting all, especially those who are parents and caregivers, making the profession a little bit more friendly allowing us to benefit from the talents of all.”