Despite significant progress in gender equality in many areas of work and life over the decades, women are persistently under-represented in Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) fields in general and particularly in nuclear science and technology. Very few women advance to leadership positions in the nuclear sector and this gender gap has important implications for the future of nuclear technology applications and the ability of countries to apply these technologies to address serious environmental, energy and other challenges.
In this context, the NEA is working with its member countries to promote gender balance and the development of female leaders in the nuclear energy sector so as to ensure a robust, diverse and sustainable nuclear workforce. As part of these efforts, the Agency organises mentoring workshops to connect young women interested in STEM careers with nationally and internationally accomplished women in this area.
“Research shows that despite high performance in science and mathematics, young women do not generally pursue STEM careers and leadership positions due to a lack of confidence and understanding of their options,” said NEA Director-General William D. Magwood, IV at the latest mentoring workshop event organised last week. The event was one of three mentoring workshops organised by the Agency in October 2021 to motivate the students to pursue STEM careers and to illustrate the many opportunities available for personal and professional growth and leadership in the nuclear energy field.
“Our mentoring workshop targets these challenges by connecting young women interested in STEM careers with accomplished female nuclear leaders from their home countries and abroad.”
2 weeks, 124 students and 28 mentors
The first workshop of the October workshops was held on 5 October 2021 in Granada, Spain, jointly organised with Women in Nuclear (WiN) Spain and co-sponsored by the City Council of Granada and the Electric Power Research Institute (EPRI). It brought together around 70 female high-school students from Spain with 12 mentors, including the NEA's Natalie Bonilla, Deputy Head of the Division of the Human Aspects of Nuclear Safety.
The second workshop was organised virtually on 12-14 October 2021 in co-operation with Japan’s Nuclear Damage Compensation and Decommissioning Facilitation Corporation (NDF). The three-day event provided 24 high school students from Japan and Romania the opportunity to meet and interact with eight mentors, including the NEA’s Diane Cameron, Head of the Nuclear Technology Development and Economics Division.
Alina Vasilief, a student at Romania’s Mihai Viteazul National High School who participated in the workshop, found that the event was inspirational for her future career goals. “My thoughts of my future career are now more clear than they were at the beginning of this week,” she said. “I have received great advice and Director-General Magwood’s words were inspiring: your future is what you make of it.”
Satomi Takita, a student at Fukushima Prefectural Asaka High School added: “After hearing from the mentors, I now feel confident and know that if I have the will to keep learning, I will reach the career I want.”
A third mentoring workshop took place in conjunction with the Third Eurasian Women’s Forum held in St. Petersburg, Russia, on 13-15 October 2021. Organised in co-operation with State Atomic Energy Corporation Rosatom (ROSATOM) and its Technical Academy, the event attracted around 30 Russian and Turkish students from Peter the Great St. Petersburg Polytechnic University.
After spending a day with eight mentors, including the NEA’s Head of the Division of Nuclear Science and Education Tatiana Ivanova, the students expressed that they were encouraged by the experience. Şeyda Merve Değirmenci said that “there is no ending to learning new information”.
“Mostly we are afraid to make mistakes but our mentor told us that our mistakes are our best friends,” noted Arina Turlaeva. “And we shouldn’t be afraid of them.”
NEA work to bridge gender divides
In recent years, the NEA membership has highlighted gender balance as a matter of increasing importance that would benefit from international co-operation. In response to member country requests for co-ordinated engagement and action, the NEA recently established a formal task group on improving gender balance in the nuclear energy sector.
The task group’s objectives are to collect and analyse data and best practices in enhancing gender balance and empowering women. In doing so, the group will formulate policy recommendations to enhance the contributions of women to the nuclear sector, as well as to promote communication on gender issues, engagement and educational activities to support these endeavours. The group’s mandate also includes a focus on diversity beyond gender.
The NEA Nuclear Education, Skills and Technology Framework (NEST), which aims to foster a new generation of nuclear experts and leaders by transmitting practical knowledge and offering hands-on training, recently published its Strategy for Gender Balance. Additionally, the NEA Global Forum on Nuclear Education, Science, Technology and Policy also includes a focus on gender balance as a key priority.