We are committed to keeping staff, students and the public up-to-date on our progress in tackling gender inequality. It is a wide-ranging issue, and ensuring gender equality will require real change that will impact how we work in the University.

Scroll down to find answers to some of the most frequently asked questions on the issue, including:

What is the Gender Equality Task Force?

The Gender Equality Task Force was established in February 2015, under the Chair of Professor Jane Grimson, former Vice-Provost of Trinity College Dublin. The role of the Task Force is to review gender equality policies in NUI Galway, with a view to making recommendations. The Task Force has a broad remit to consider the University’s present gender mix among staff, including academic and support staff and to advise the University what measures it should take and over what timescale to develop gender equality.

Important notes:

  • The Task Force is independent - they set their own terms of reference and will advise on policies and practices on a range of gender equality issues as they see fit
  • The Task Force reports directly to Údarás na hOllscoile
  • An indicative timescale of 18-24 months had been given for the work of the Task Force though it will make interim reports at various stages along the way
  • The Task Force has 17 members
  • 8 of those 17 are external members
  • 11 of the 17 are also female

Who are the Task Force members?

The Gender Equality Task Force comprises 17 members, drawn from both inside and outside the University. The members represent a broad spectrum of expertise and different perspectives, with strong external representation. The Task Force is fully independent, with no members of the University Management Team or the Governing Authority. The members are:

Task Force Chair

Professor Jane Grimson - Former Vice-Provost, Trinity College Dublin

External Members

  • Liam Bluett - General Manager, Ballybane Enterprise Centre          
  • Norah Gibbons - Chairperson, Child and Family Agency     
  • Professor Áine Hyland - Former Vice-President, University College Cork  
  • Dr John Kremer - Former Reader in Psychology, Queen’s University Belfast        
  • Professor Gerry Loftus - Former Dean of the College of Medicine, Nursing and Health Science, NUI Galway           
  • Gráinne McMorrow, SC - Senior Counsel and Sole Member at Douch Commission of Investigation
  • Tadhg Ó hÉalaithe - Former Secretary General of the Department of Arts, Culture and the Gaeltacht

Internal Members

  • Dr Louise Allcock - Lecturer, School of Natural Sciences, NUI Galway
  • Ms Maria de Almeida Silva - PhD Student in School of Law
  • Dr Nata Duvvury - Senior Lecturer, School of Political Science and Sociology, NUI Galway
  • Caroline Loughnane - Academic Secretary, NUI Galway
  • Dr Niall Madden – Lecturer, School of Mathematics, Statistics and  Applied Mathematics
  • Aoife McNena - HR Operations Manager, NUI Galway  
  • Professor Donncha O'Connell - Head of the School of Law, NUI Galway
  • Professor Maura Sheehan - Personal Professor, J. E. Cairnes School of Business and Economics, NUI Galway
  • Natalie Walsh - Research Support Officer, Research Office, NUI Galway

How were the Task Force members chosen?

The Task Force members represent a wide spectrum of expertise and experience, including international expertise working in the field of gender and diversity. They were chosen following a selection process in which the Governing Authority charged a sub-group of University management and officers with the task of recommending appropriate members, based on a number of factors:

  • the need to ensure a high level of expertise and experience relevant to the work of the Task Force
  • the need to have an external independent chairperson
  • the desirability not to have representation from the University Management Team and Údarás na hOllscoile in order to assure the independence of the Task Force
  • the desirability of affording considerable latitude and flexibility in the terms of reference for the Task Force
  • the flexibility for the Task Force to request and hear evidence as it sees fit
  • the need to ensure strong gender balance on the Task Force

The Task Force includes current and former staff members. How can we be sure it is functioning independently of the University?

  • The Task Force has a mix of internal and external members. It is chaired by an individual from outside the University who is a strong independent voice with decades of experience of the Irish higher education sector, and who is very experienced and highly qualified in steering a Task Force of this nature.
  • Internal members are neither members of the University Management Team, nor Údarás na hOllscoile.
  • Internal members include experts in the fields of gender and diversity, as well as individuals with years of experience of the HR processes and work practices of this University.
  • The Task Force will set its own terms of reference and will advise on policies and practices on a range of gender equality issues as they see fit.
  • It will report directly to Údarás na hOllscoile on its progress and recommendations.

How can we be sure the University will actually change?

The University is committed in its new Strategic Plan to a transformed organisational culture of gender equality. We are explicitly committed to implementing change through the establishment of the Task Force and through our involvement in the Athena SWAN programme. It is a strategic priority to address this issue in real and impactful ways. To this end, the University has committed to accepting in full the recommendations of the Task Force.

The University has already made significant change in this area and will continue to be proactive in doing so. Since 2008, the University has made the following important steps in tackling gender inequality:

  • Affirmative Action: The University, with the full support of its Governing Authority, introduced a programme of affirmative action for the Senior Lecturer promotions round in 2013/2014. This initiative effectively put in place a guaranteed quota to ensure at least one third of promotional places would be awarded to women. Few Irish organisations have taken such a positive and proactive step towards gender equity to date.
  • Gender awareness training: a training programme in gender-awareness and recognising unconscious bias was developed for and attended by all promotion board members.
  • Balanced boards: we ensured that Promotion Boards comprised a broadly equal number of men and women.
  • Weighting according to strengths: The 2013/14 Promotion Scheme allowed all candidates to apply an extra weighting to their strongest of three fields: Teaching, Research or Contribution – thereby allowing them to play down the importance of the weakest area.

What is Athena SWAN?

Athena SWAN is a Charter and Awards programme co-ordinated by the UK-based Equality Challenge Unit to promote best practice in advancing the careers of women in science, technology, engineering, medicine and mathematics (or STEMM). It has been developed to encourage and recognise commitment to combating the underrepresentation of women in STEMM research and academia. An external evaluation in the UK in 2013 showed a significant impact of Athena SWAN on organisational structure and culture change in the higher education system there.

Access to the Athena SWAN programme was extended to Irish universities in 2015. Securing an award under the Charter involves the development of an institution-wide Action Plan to improve gender equality and diversity, and putting in place appropriate structures to rigorously monitor progress of the Plan's implementation. The Plan itself must be specific to issues faced by the institution. Applications are rigorously reviewed prior to an award being made, and progress is closely monitored afterwards.

Why is the University looking for an Award when we know our record is poor?

The Athena SWAN Award is not an award in the sense of being the best in something. Rather, it is recognition of an institution’s genuine engagement in the Athena SWAN framework. It is awarded to institutions who show they are proactively making changes to their processes to the underrepresentation of women in STEMM research and academia in ways that are recommended through the Athena SWAN programme. It comes in three grades: Bronze, Silver and Gold. NUI Galway will begin the process by applying for Bronze Award recognition.

Who is working on the Athena SWAN submission?

The Athena SWAN Self-Appraisal Team will carry out an institution-wide assessment as part of our submission for recognition through the Athena SWAN programme. The Team has 19 members including staff, students and postgraduate researchers. Members are drawn from across the University and the Team includes 12 female members.

  • Jess Burns - Athena SWAN project co-ordinator
  • Dr Miriam Byrne – Lecturer, School of Physics; Chair, Institute of Physics Juno Committee at NUI Galway
  • Aoife Cooke – Human Resources Manager – Equality
  • Erica De Milio – Zoology PhD Student
  • Professor Pól Ó Dochartaigh – Registrar and Deputy President, Chair of Athena SWAN Self-Assessment Team
  • Mary Dooley – Chief Financial Officer
  • Anne Marie Forde – Facilities Manager, Buildings Office
  • Dr Anthony J. Grehan – University (Research) Fellow, School of Natural Sciences
  • Dr Rachel Hilliard – Lecturer, School of Business & Economics
  • Dr Victoria Hogan – Lecturer, School of Health Sciences
  • Dr Valerie Ledwith – Lecturer, School of Geography & Archaeology
  • Dr Niall Madden – Lecturer, School of Mathematics
  • Chris McNairney – Director of Human Resources
  • Nicola McNicholas – Management Accountant
  • Professor Kathy Murphy – Professor of Nursing
  • Sinéad Ní Ghuidhir – Lecturer, School of Education
  • Dr Jurgita Ovadnevaite – Postdoc Researcher, School of Physics; Member of Institute of Physics Juno Committee at NUI Galway
  • Dr Nathan Quinlan – Senior Lecturer, Discipline of Mechanical Engineering
  • Dr Oliver Ryan – Senior Technical Officer, School of Physics

Why are we addressing gender equality issues now? Why not before?

The University has already made significant change in helping to ensure equal opportunity in recent years – through implementing Affirmative Action in the Senior Lecturer promotions round in 2013/2014; through providing Gender Awareness Training to all promotion board members; by ensuring Promotion Boards that are gender balanced; and by Weighting Performance according to strengths in Teaching, Research or Contribution.

We recognise that there were failings in the past and we have taken major steps to change our promotion processes. However, we also recognise there is a continuous need for change and that is why we have set in place a high powered Task Force to look at all our practices and promotion schemes and to offer a series of independent recommendations that can address this at a more systematic level in the future. Our current drive in setting up the Task Force and engaging with Athena SWAN comes after critical findings by the Equality Tribunal and poor performance in a recent HEA report into gender representation at senior academic positions, both released in late 2014. These findings clearly show the need to take strong action on the issue.

Timeline of Key Events

2008/09: NUI Galway ran a Senior Lecturer (SL) Promotion Scheme in which 17 promotions were made: 16 to male and 1 to female staff members, resulting in only 6% of all promotions being made to a female.

2009/10: The University moved to conduct a comprehensive review of the SL Scheme with a view to addressing the significant gender imbalance clearly apparent from the results of the 2008/09 scheme.

2010: The Government introduced a blanket ban on promotions in the public sector – the effect of which was to close the promotion scheme at NUI Galway until 2013.

October 2013: First meeting of a national steering committee seeking to extend Athena SWAN to Ireland. Dr Miriam Byrne (School of Physics) and Aoife Cooke (Equality Manager) represented NUI Galway at the meeting.

2013/14: A new SL Promotion Scheme opens at NUI Galway incorporating changes as a result of a review of the previous scheme. A total of 31 staff were promoted, 12 of whom were female (39% of all promotions).

April 2014: The UK-based Equality Challenge Unit announced the expansion of the Athena SWAN Charter to the HE sector in Ireland, the first time the Charter would be run outside of the UK. Professor Kathy Murphy and Aoife Cooke represent NUI Galway on the Athena SWAN Irish committee.

November 2014: The Equality Tribunal found against NUI Galway in the case of Dr Micheline Sheehy Skeffington’s application for promotion to SL in 2008/9, on the grounds of gender discrimination. The decision of the Equality Tribunal was particular to Dr Sheehy Skeffington: it was not a class action, and the outcome does not apply to other applicants in the 2008/09 SL promotion scheme.

December 2014: We requested the Irish University Association and Higher Education Authority to formally call on the Irish Human Rights and Equality Commission (IHREC) to carry out an Equality Review of the entire Higher Education sector.

December 2014: Five applicants to the 2013/14 Senior Lecturer promotion scheme initiate legal proceedings against the University on the outcome of the 2013/14 competition.

February 2015: Údarás na hOllscoile confirms the 16 members of the University's independent Gender Equality Task Force, which will be chaired by Professor Jane Grimson, former Vice Provost of TCD.

March 2015: The Gender Equality Task Force begins its work assessing the University's policies, procedures and culture relating to gender equality. An indicative timescale of 18 months has been given for the completion of all work by the Task Force. It is expected to make interim reports and recommendations at various stages over the course of that time.

March 2015: The Athena SWAN Self-Appraisal Team issues an all-staff survey on range of gender equality issues, as part of their submission for the Athena SWAN University Bronze award.

April 2015: Four staff serve proceedings against the University on the basis of the outcome of the 2008/09 Promotion to Senior Lecturer round.

April 2015: The Athena SWAN Self-Assessment Team submitted their application for a University Bronze Award.

June 2015: Gender Equality Task Force presents Progress Report to Údarás na hOllscoile - NUI Galway's Governing Body - and publishes Terms of Reference online.

July 2015: HEA announces a national review of gender equality in higher education, chaired by former EU Commissioner, Máire Geoghegan-Quinn.

July 2015: In the first round of Athena SWAN awards for Irish universities, NUI Galway was one of four Irish institutions unsuccessful in their applications. The Athena SWAN Self-Assessment Team received detailed recommendations to help prepare for future application rounds.

November 2015: Unconscious Bias training commences for approximately 300 senior staff and academics across the University.

December 2015: Gender ARC host a conference entitled 'Gender InEquality' on campus.

December 2015: Interviews take place for the new University post of Vice-President for Equality and Diversity.

December 2015: Gender Equality Task Force presents Second Progress Report to Údarás na hOllscoile - NUI Galway's Governing Body.

April 2016: Gender Equality Task Force published their Draft Final Report on the NUI Galway Staff Intranet and invites comments from staff.

May 2016: Údaras na hOllscoile unanimously adopts the Final Report of the Gender Equality Task Force at a special meeting and mandates the newly appointed Vice-President for Equality & Diversity to develop an Implementation Plan to be brought to Údaras in Autumn of this year.

August 2016: The Office of the Vice-President for Equality and Diversity is established on campus. Professor Anne Scott is appointed Vice-President for Equality and Diversity; Aoife Cooke is appointed Head of Equal Opportunities; and Lorna Cormican will provide administrative support to the Office.

September 2016: Three new policies concerning leave come into effect, following recommendations from the Gender Equality Task Force Final Report. They make investments in better cover for maternity/adoptive leave, parental leave and the introduction of a research grant for academics returning from carers' leave.

October 2016: A Gender Equality Action Plan to ensure implementation of the Task Force recommendations is in the final stages of development. Professor Anne Scott, newly appointed VP for Equality and Diversity, will present the action plan to Academic Council in October and to Údarás na hOllscoile, for approval, at its first meeting of this academic year.

November 2016: Údarás na hOllscoile approves Gender Equality Action Plan.

How will staff have an input into this process?

Gender Equality Task Force: The Chair of the Task Force has already committed to consulting widely with staff and students in the course of their work. We are committed to giving regular updates to staff and students on the Task Force’s progress.

Athena SWAN: The Athena SWAN Self-Appraisal Team have already begun consulting with staff on the University’s submission. The first step in this process is an all-staff survey on a range of issues relating to gender equality, including promotion opportunities, training, work flexibility and work culture. All staff are invited to fill in the following survey before 27 March 2015: https://www.surveymonkey.com/s/Athena_SWAN_Staff_Survey

What does the Equality Tribunal decision on Dr Sheehy Skeffington’s promotion mean for others?

Dr Sheehy Skeffington’s case to the Equality Tribunal was not a class action. Dr Sheehy Skeffington fought her case based on the merits of her own academic performance. While the Equality Tribunal ruled that there were procedural flaws in the 2008/09 Senior Lecturer Sheme, they also ruled that, on the merits of her particular academic performance – and relative to a successful male applicant – Dr Sheehy Skeffington should be promoted.

Important notes:

  • The Equality Tribunal did not consider the applications of any other unsuccessful applicants in the 2008/09 promotion round in the context of their individual suitability for promotion.
  • The Equality Tribunal’s decision is particular to Dr Sheehy Skeffington; it is not a class action.
  • Therefore, the ruling of the Equality Tribunal cannot be applied to any other candidates.
  • The University has received clear legal advice on this issue  - the finding of gender discrimination was particular to Dr Sheehy Skeffington and was de facto not transferrable to other applicants in the 2008/09 Senior Lecturer promotion competition. 

What else did the Equality Tribunal decide?

All of the following claims made by Dr Sheehy Skeffington during her case were not upheld by the Equality Tribunal:

  • that women do more teaching than men
  • that an over-emphasis on research favours men over women in terms of promotion
  • that leadership positions are not awarded on a transparent basis but on a ‘nod and a wink’ amongst male academics
  • that women are excluded from the types of informal mentoring networks enjoyed to men to their detriment in a promotions process
  • that women care more about student welfare than men

There are a number of ongoing cases against the University relating to the 2013/14 promotion scheme? What is happening with these in the meantime?

The University has had engagement with the women concerned and would like if possible to resolve this issue amicably. However, we are satisfied that the 2013/2014 Senior Lecturer Promotion Scheme was fair and robust. In the interest of the privacy of those involved, the University cannot discuss individual cases publicly.

What can we say to staff who are demoralised by recent revelations relating to gender equality in the University?

The University is committed to making real and positive change on this issue. The commitment is embedded in our Strategic Plan 2015-2020, and real action can be seen in the establishment of an independent Task Force and in our engagement with the Athena SWAN programme. The Task Force begins its work in late March, and the Athena SWAN Self-Assessment Team is currently undertaking its institutional assessment as part of a submission to Athena SWAN that will be made later this year. Both groups are committed to implementing real change in the University in the short term.

While the current situation is damaging to staff morale, it represents a real opportunity to make a sea change. If we all work together, we can really make a difference to the future of women’s careers in the University.

What else is the University doing to advance gender equality now?

  1. Review of 2013/14 Senior Lecturer Scheme: the Registrar is currently leading a review of the 2013/14 Scheme, with a view to introducing the next promotion round in 2016.
  2. Equality Review: We have requested the Irish University Association and Higher Education Authority formally call on the Irish Human Rights and Equality Commission (IHREC) to carry out an Equality Review of the entire Higher Education sector in Ireland.
  3. Professorial Promotion: The Professorial Promotion scheme is currently under review to ensure it is fit for purpose in time for the next round of promotions.

How does NUI Galway compare with Irish and other Universities in its proportion of female professors?

  • Ireland: The average for Ireland is 19% female to 81% male professors  (source: HEA data)
  • UK: In 2013-14, 22% of professors were female (source: HESA)
  • Sweden: In 2013, 24% of professors were female (KIF Committee, EU Commission)


% female Established Professors

% female Personal/Associate Professors

NUI Galway





















Source: HEA Report, December 2013