Athena Swan boycott

Kingston UCU branch calls for boycott of Athena Swan activity

CW: sexual harassment, violence and assault.











With regret, Kingston University UCU are calling for all members and colleagues to implement an immediate boycott of all activities related to Athena Swan accreditations within Kingston University.

Members involved in Athena Swan committees can find a template resignation email here. Members can share their stories of gender inequality at Kingston University anonymously here.

While the union supports the principles of the Athena Swan programme nationally, and recognises the hard work of colleagues engaging with the programme locally, we have completely lost faith in the University’s commitment to pledges made under the Athena Swan banner and in their wider commitment to gender equality, and support for parents and carers.

At a branch meeting in July 2021, a motion passed that

‘this branch has no confidence in the University’s commitment to gender equality and the Athena Swan principles that have been described in our Institutional and Departmental Athena Swan applications and Action Plans.’

Since then, the branch committee has reached out to members involved in self-assessment teams, subcommittees, and working groups, and found a lack of meaningful progress and failures to implement action plans across different faculties. Our current working-to-contract as part of Action Short of a Strike reveals how much vital work on equalities is done without proper workload time allocation, creating barriers to involvement for those who are unable to consistently work additional unpaid hours.

Among the significant, serious, and longstanding concerns Kingston University UCU has, are:

Failures to seriously tackle sexual misconduct and violence, and put in place adequate safeguarding measures.

As documented in UCU’s December report Eradicating Sexual Violence In Tertiary Education’, sexual violence is endemic in UK universities and disproportionately prevalent against groups marginalised by employment status or protected characteristics. Senior management are not doing enough to take it seriously, perpetuating a workplace culture which allows and enables it. The findings of the report – of complainants facing a hostile organisational culture, unsupportive reactions to disclosure, and misuse of reporting time limits, the structural vulnerability of post-graduate research students, a lack of training for staff dealing with complaints, a lack of transparency in the reporting process, and the lack of a survivor-centred approach – all resonate with experiences of staff and students at Kingston University.

Al Jazeera’s Degrees of Abuse investigation, which looked at sexual misconduct complaints made against students and staff between 2017 and 2020, how many complaints were fully investigated, and how many led to an outcome for the complainant, found that at Kingston University, 29 complaints of student sexual misconduct in this period led to one expulsion. In 2019, five complaints of staff sexual misconduct were directed at one staff member, however the complaint was not investigated. See the Freedom of Information report here.

Poor treatment and refusals of reasonable requests for flexible working from staff with caring responsibilities.

At local levels, members report refusals of reasonable requests for flexibility in working arrangements to accommodate family responsibilities including childcare and caring duties. Despite making line managers aware of caring responsibilities that impact their ability to prepare for teaching at 9am or be able to teach until 6pm, Staff Constraint Forms are not signed off by Faculty Deans. This results in teaching being timetabled at times that cannot be achieved with school or childcare drop-offs and pick-ups. These schedules also impact students, who have reported being unable to attend essential and compulsory teaching, such as practical classes, that are scheduled until 6pm due to childcare. Access to affordable childcare for staff and students was also negatively impacted by the closure of the Kingston University nursery in 2019. Recent polls have found that BAME people are more likely to have caring responsibilities and nearly half say their caring responsibilities are holding them back from applying for promotions or new positions at work – this matches Kingston’s equality data which shows a higher percentage of BAME staff have caring responsibilties.

Staff on maternity leave being made redundant.

There were significant concerns in the most recent consultation process in KSA in relation to the University’s treatment of members with protected characteristics, including possible breaches of legal obligations related to maternity and redundancy.

Minimal Paternity Leave

Paternity Leave allowance remains minimal at just two weeks, inadequate for partners to support mothers* at a time when post-partum depression can occur, and often insufficient time for recovery of the mother’s physical health, particularly following a C-section. Additionally, childcare cannot be put in place until an infant is six weeks old. Other universities and workplaces have extended Paternity Leave, such as University of Exeter which has 6 weeks Paternity Leave and advises staff to use this before any period of Shared Parental Leave to take advantage of both.

* Kingston University policy refers to ‘mothers’, Maternity and Paternity Leave / Pay and so we use this terminology here. However we wish to affirm in our use of language here that not all pregnant people are women and thereby acknowledge trans, non-binary, gender-queer and gender-fluid pregnant people and parents. We also emphasise our use of an inclusive definition of the term ‘women’ which is committed to defending the rights of trans, non-binary, gender-queer and gender-fluid people.

Inequality in Promotion and Pay

Women and BAME staff remain overrepresented in lower-grade roles. Pay gaps, one of the Four Fights we are currently taking industrial action over, remain unacceptable, particularly for professional services staff.

KU UCU demands that:

Kingston University commits, within an agreed timeframe, to:

  • put resources towards developing more robust policies around harassment and sexual violence, proactively seeking input from survivors, drawing on survivor-led and co-produced research in alignment with the Survivors’ Voices Charter, and involving genuine consultation with all campus-based unions . A policy review should be commissioned from an organisation such as the 1752 Group;
  • develop better reporting and more transparent complaints procedures. The current Report It tool is not user friendly, and does not include enough signposting to support as compared to Report + Support at places like the University of Manchester, UCL and Queen Mary;
  • run a well-resourced, multi-platform campaign publicising how to report harassment and gender-based violence and the support available;
  • implement mandatory training, delivered by specialists, on sexual harassment and violence, as well as active bystander training, for all staff and students, particularly line managers and HR staff;
  • adequately workload the roles of Harassment Contact and Safeguarding officers;
  • publicly sign the pledge to end the use of NDAs to silence complainants and protect perpetrators, advocated by the student-led Not On My Campus campaign;
  • recognise that casualisation exacerbates gender-based violence and commit to end the use of zero-hours contracts and outsourcing, and move hourly-paid staff onto permanent contracts;
  • audit the impact of flexible working decisions on staff with caring responsibilities, and review the Flexible Working policy and its implementation, taking an intersectional approach and involving genuine consultation with all campus unions;
  • seek to implement a flexible and family friendly timetable to enable all students to participate in teaching sessions;
  • strictly adhere to the minimum statutory rights afforded to colleagues taking maternity leave to ensure no detriment is experienced by these colleagues in any aspect of their employment at Kingston University;
  • conduct Equality Impact Assessments on KU22 and the Domains framework, and publish the EIA of Plan2020 immediately;
  • extend paid Paternity Leave to a minimum of 6 weeks, which can be taken in addition to Shared Parental Leave not instead of it;
  • adopt the elimination of gender, ethnicity and disability pay gaps as an institutional KPI, including gaps in bonuses / exceptional payments;
  • adopt improvements in the Staff Survey outcomes as an institutional KPI;
  • review promotion and progression procedures for academic and general & professional staff to identify barriers and mitigating actions, taking an intersectional approach;

We recognise that our request to boycott will be a difficult and disappointing undertaking for many colleagues who have devoted time, energy and commitment to Athena Swan working groups and activities with genuine belief in Kingston University’s commitment to achieving gender equality in the workplace. However, evidence now shows that the main interest is in achieving the Athena Swan Badge and pushing to secure Silver Awards, without any real actions to implement the proposals.

We sincerely hope that this action will result in the University taking immediate, measurable and effective action to demonstrate their commitment to gender equality at Kingston.

Our boycott has been covered in the local press with this article by Miranda Dunne in the Kingston Courier: Kingston Union launches boycott of ‘tick box’ gender equality charter. We have written to the Courier and the leader of Kingston Council highlighting errors in the university spokerperson’s statement in this article – this boycott is independent of our current industrial action, and that action is over Four Fights related to pay and conditions, not just the 2021-2 pay offer.

Sexual violence support:

UCU Sexual Harassment Support Helpline. A dedicated service for UCU members: 0800 138 8724

Rape Crisis UK: 0808 802 9999

The Survivors Trust: 08088 010 818

LifeCentre:  0808 802 0808 or text 07717 989 022

Refuge: 0808 2000 247

Rights of Women: Free employment legal advice to women experiencing sexual harassment at work. 020 7490 0152.

Disabled Survivors Unite:

Galop: For LGBT+ people who have experienced abuse and violence. Hate crime helpline 0207 7042040.

Survivors UK. For men, boys and non-binary people who have experiences of sexual abuse. Helpline web chat or text 020 3322 1860