Attracting more women into science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) fields is an increasingly important goal that many NEA member countries are pursuing. Women are under-represented in the nuclear sector, especially in leadership and STEM roles. This has considerable implications for the future of nuclear energy, which needs a robust and diverse workforce to drive performance and innovation. In recent years, NEA countries have highlighted gender balance as a matter of increasing importance that would benefit from international co-operation and formed a high-level task group to take action.
The task group’s goals are to collect data on the challenges to achieving gender balance in STEM and leadership positions in the nuclear sector and to develop international policy to help countries enhance the contributions of women. The group promotes targeted communications, engagement and educational activities to advance the participation and visibility of women in the sector. Delegates to the task group are high-level representatives including government officials and experts from industry, research institutes, and academia.
In all, 34 delegates from 15 countries met on 14 February 2022 to discuss potential international policy proposals. Their deliberations followed a data collection drive that the NEA undertook in 2021 through surveys of over 8 000 women in the global nuclear energy sector in 32 countries and from 96 nuclear energy organisations in 17 countries. This first-ever initiative confirmed that women are under-represented in the nuclear energy workforce, especially in STEM positions, and that female representation decreases further at upper management levels. Women lag compared to their male counterparts on key indicators, including salary data. In response to the findings, the group is considering actionable international policy recommendations. The data analysis and policy framework are expected to be publicly available this year.
Dr Fiona Rayment, Chair of the task group, Vice Chair of the NEA Steering Committee and Chief Science and Technology Officer of the United Kingdom National Nuclear Laboratory, noted the urgency of undertaking swift, coordinated international action. “Our aim is to achieve better gender balance in the nuclear energy sector internationally, and to provide NEA members with the data and policy they need to make progress on a country-by-country basis. We need to attract the next generation of innovative talent into our sector and enable them to flourish. An inclusive sector comprised of people with significant thought diversity is a thriving, successful sector that will ensure a sustainable, clean energy future,” said Dr Rayment.
The NEA has been promoting gender balance and diversity through engagement and educational activities. It co-operates with national organisations to hold mentoring workshops for adolescent girls. Twelve such events have been held since 2017 with students in Japan, Kenya, Romania, Russia, and Spain. Additional workshops are planned for 2022.
In addition, the Global Forum on Nuclear Education, Science, Technology and Policy, an NEA initiative connecting academic institutions with member countries and nuclear energy stakeholders, launched a working group on achieving gender balance in the academic field.