Nuclear Energy Agency analyses highlight that total nuclear energy production needs to triple by 2050 for governments around the world to achieve net zero emissions. The nuclear sector will need to grow and diversify its workforce as a result, but that will be difficult to achieve unless it attracts more women.
Women such as Marie Skłodowska-Curie, Lisa Meitner, Chien-Shiung Wu and Katharine Way were key pioneers in nuclear science and technology and women around the world continue to make vital contributions. But a new NEA report reveals that their visibility and numbers remain low, making up only 24.9% of the nuclear sector workforce in NEA countries.
The number of women in the sector in who serve in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) and leadership roles are lower still. This lack of diversity represents a loss of potential innovation and growth and a critical threat to the viability of the field.
A new NEA report Gender Balance in the Nuclear Sector is the first publicly available international data on gender balance in the nuclear sector and is based on data collected from over 8,000 women in the nuclear workforce in 32 countries, as well as human resources data from 96 nuclear organisations in 17 countries.
Released on 8 March to mark International Women's Day, the report reveals that nearly half the women surveyed in the nuclear energy sector have experienced or heard accounts of gender bias and sexual harassment at work. The publication also highlights that women are paid less (based on limited datasets) and feel as though they lack female role models, which makes it harder for the sector to attract more female talent.
The report was conducted under the mandate of the NEA's Task Group on Improving Gender Balance in the Nuclear Sector which was formed after many NEA countries highlighted that gender balance was an increasingly important matter that would benefit from international co-operation.
The report found that women in the nuclear sector are eager to advance but face challenges such as a lack of flexible work practices for those with family responsibilities, as well as gender stereotyping. The current recruitment, attrition and promotion rates are insufficient to significantly improve gender balance in the sector.
Despite the challenges, the majority of women surveyed said that they would encourage other women to pursue a career in the nuclear sector, which offers hope for the sector as it seeks to attract and retain more female talent to meet its ambitious future targets.
“Our member countries, whatever their policies with regard to nuclear energy, need a large number of talented, well-trained people to address the challenges of the future. The fact that so few women enter nuclear science and technology fields and fewer still climb to leadership roles is a terrible loss of a resource that is desperately needed," said NEA Director-General William D. Magwood.
"Beyond that, I believe all activities benefit from having diverse viewpoints brought together to analyse and solve challenges. Women often bring a different perspective that I find enhances organisations and strengthens outcomes. The lack of women in the nuclear field, in my view, is an existential challenge for the sector,” he added.
Dr Fiona Rayment, Chief Science and Technology Officer of the United Kingdom National Nuclear Laboratory was elected as Chair of the NEA Task Group that conducted the study, and was pleased to see the publication of the report which she hopes will help to drive the change needed to attract more women into the nuclear sector.
"With the ever-increasing importance of energy security while minimising carbon emissions, a solution including nuclear energy is receiving greater focus. Meeting these challenges requires a broad range of skills that can be delivered through a neuro-diverse workforce, and creating gender balance across the international nuclear sector is a key element in achieving this," said Dr Rayment.
"I am delighted to see the launch of this report which provides the quantitative and qualitative information on the status of gender balance in nuclear internationally and the associated challenges that women face. My hope is that this report enables the sector to have a springboard to move to greater gender balance in the years ahead driving the neurodiversity the sector is craving," she added.
To download the report 'Gender Balance in the Nuclear Sector' visit here: oecd-nea.org/gender-balance