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Attracting and Retaining Female Talent

A female scientist

Belen Vallina Gonzalez is an intern in the IAEA´s Soil and Water Management and Crop Nutrition Laboratory, which helps develop techniques to improve crop yields. (Photo: J. Perez-Vargas/IAEA)

As the pool of people, especially women, with scientific and technological knowledge in the nuclear industry shrinks, the IAEA is struggling to boost the ranks of its female professionals to meet the UN target of 50%.

Of the 20 000 to 25 000 applications the IAEA receives each year for professional positions, fewer than 25% are from women. At present, only 23.3% of IAEA professional staff are women.

The IAEA is working hard to attract and retain female staff, but the difficulty is finding qualified women and getting them to apply, given the static nature of the nuclear industry in recent decades. Now that many predict a renaissance in the industry, the need is becoming ever more acute.

Attracting Talent

The Agency´s talent acquisition programme specifically targets women for supervisory positions - like heads of sections, directors and deputy directors general.

"We have a staff member dedicated to going out and finding people for senior level positions, and to finding women in particular. For a vacant post in the legal division for example, he went out to the UN Lawyers´ Association, and sent targeted emails to people asking them either to apply or to pass the vacancy notice on to their friends who may want to apply. And in doing so we make sure that we target women," says Catherine Monzel, Head of IAEA Recruitment and Staff Development.

"The last directors who have been appointed have been found this way. Recently, when we hired people to fill nine vacant positions in the director category for example, we ended up with a ratio of 5 men to 4 women, where previously the ratio was 8 men to 1 woman. This is a marked improvement and we´re very pleased with how that effort has been working."

Peri Johnson, one of the women who was recruited though the talent acquisition programme, is Director of the IAEA Office of Legal Affairs and Legal Advisor to the Director General. She is the first female Legal Advisor the IAEA has ever had.

"We have a female Section Head, as well as nine male and seven female lawyers. In my experience it is not difficult to find qualified female lawyers because law schools now have near equal female/male class sizes."

Retaining Talent

Despite some successes across the IAEA, the numbers fluctuate from year to year, with women leaving to take up new opportunities elsewhere.

"The key is retaining women and making sure that they find this to be a fruitful and comfortable place to work," says Monzel, who is also the Focal Point for Gender Concerns.

This involves implementing policies that ensure women get to spend time with their families while being fulfilled in their jobs.

"There are things like maternity leave, flexible work hours, and use of the childcare centre for example. We make sure that managers understand that staff members, especially women, need to be able to take advantage of these policies. And we need to make sure that - for all staff, but for women in particular - that this is a safe work environment where they feel comfortable."

In the Legal Division for example, both men and women benefit from these policies. "Some even suggest that more people would take advantage of them if they were better publicised," says Johnson.

"We have a professional male staff member who has taken paternity leave, who felt it was very useful to be able to spend the four weeks with his new baby. We have two staff currently using the flexible working hours, to accommodate their family schedules. And yet another staff member who has taken maternity leave and extended special leave without pay. All of whom are grateful for the opportunity to better balance work and family life," says Johnson.

100 Years of Celebrating Women

Today, 8 March 2011, marks 100 years since the first celebration of International Women´s Day. "It is a call to the entire world of the important role that women play both in professional fields and in family; and the balance that women have to find between the two," says Monzel.

The occasion will be marked with a display in Vienna International Centre (VIC), in Austria, which is home to many international organisations, including the IAEA. The display will focus on the contribution of women to the VIC.

See Story Resources for more information.

-- By Sasha Henriques, IAEA Division of Public Information


(Note to Media: We encourage you to republish these stories and kindly request attribution to the IAEA).