Women in gender discrimination case in NUI Galway face increased pressure to settle

The four women have been involved in the case since 2009

Four female academics in a gender discrimination case with the National University of Ireland, Galway (NUI  Galway) are facing pressure to accept a settlement from the college, according to Times Higher Education, following the failure of the college to be recognised by the Athena Scientific Women’s Academic Network (Athena SWAN).

The four women, Adrienne Gorman, Róisín Healy, Margaret Hodgins and Sylvie Lannegrand, have been in a long-running dispute with the college, following their unsuccessful applications for senior lecturer positions in 2009. The women claim that they were treated less favorably than other candidates on the grounds of gender and/or family status.

In August, the academics were offered a settlement, which included one year of sabbatical leave and €50,000 in recognition of “administrative flaws” and “distress suffered”. A fifth woman involved accepted the settlement.

Their refusal of this settlement has been met with increasing pressure to accept due to the fact that the college has not been recognised by the Athena SWAN, a programme created to show recognition to universities that support women pursuing careers in science, technology, engineering, mathematics and medicine (STEMM) subjects.

There are concerns about a potential loss of research funding as Republic of Ireland universities must acquire this accreditation by 2019 to continue their eligibility of funding from the Science Foundation Ireland, the Irish Research Council and the Health Research Board.

Speaking to Times Higher Education,Kellye, a former lecturer at NUI Galway said: “The Athena SWAN programme is being used as a mechanism to bully the women into accepting a derisory offer.”

However, the Equality Challenge Unit in the UK, who created the programme, has claimed that there is no connection to the legal action and the college’s rejection. A university spokeswoman also said that there is “no connection whatsoever”. But feedback on the university’s application stated that the panel “noted the seriousness of the situation and the sensitivity required considering the 2008-09 promotions round”.

An employee of NUI Galway said: “More pressure has been heaped on the four women as though they’re being unreasonable and therefore somehow causing our failure to get it”.

University’s gender equality efforts can linked to funding in some ways. For example, the Biomedical Research Centre and Biomedical Research Unit funding from the National Institute for Health Research depends on the university to hold at least a silver Athena SWAN award.

Speaking about this link, Dame Athene Donald, master of Churchill College, Cambridge worried that the Athena SWAN was “viewed as simply a necessary tick-box exercise”.