Women Changing the Face of Nuclear Industry

Choosing Careers in Nuclear Science and Technology

Women from the Vienna-based international organizations gathered at the Vienna International Centre (VIC) to celebrate International Women´s Day 2010. The IAEA is taking steps to give women a more prominent role in nuclear science. (Photo: G. Verlini/IAEA)

Unrestricted by gender stereotypes that ruled the nuclear industry in the past, women today are working as nuclear engineers, project managers, inspectors, chemists, physicists, environmentalists and management members. This is evident at the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), says resident Gender Concerns specialist Kaisa Clark, "There have been significant increases in the past ten years of the number of professional women employed at the IAEA, particularly in the nuclear safeguards, nuclear energy, nuclear applications and technical cooperation departments."

According to recent studies conducted by the International Labour Organization (ILO), more women than ever before are entering the world job market. Women already compose 50% of the global work force. A European Commission study examining gender equality in science, "She Figures 2009", suggests there are an increasing number of young female research scientists and ever more female graduates to follow their lead. The study indicates that young women graduates in the natural sciences, traditionally male-dominated disciplines, will soon outnumber their male peers. The nuclear industry depends upon such graduates. With rising numbers of women graduates in the natural sciences, the sector´s gender balance may improve.

Science As a Career Path for Young Women

At the IAEA, Clark wants young women to consider career paths that conventionally women have not pursued. "There are so many ways that young women can be encouraged to consider a career not only in nuclear sciences, but in sciences in general," she says, "Here at the Agency we have our own chapter of the global Professional Associations, Women in International Security (WIIS), and Women In Nuclear (WiN). WiN-IAEA is considering outreach programmes to school aged children, particularly to girls, and is participating in their 2nd Annual "Wiener Toechtertag" (Daughters Day), a Vienna city-wide initiative that invites Agency staff to bring their daughters to work for a day. Clark believes that "when these young women experience how women work in traditionally male-dominated fields, we have a better chance of helping them develop and maintain an interest in the sciences, which could potentially help to shape their future studies and career goals."

Until a few years ago, few women were found on the IAEA´s professional staff. Today, with an expanding workforce of highly qualified women graduates in a wide variety of areas, identifying and recruiting women has become a priority for organizations worldwide. At the IAEA says Clark, "we aim for a gender balance, to have equal representation of both men and women in all professional and director-level posts, yet there are always challenges." As of March 2010, women represent only 22.4 percent of all professional staff at the Agency.

Gabriele Voigt, a Director in the Department of Safeguards, thinks that women should find careers in nuclear science and industry: "There is already information in schools and pre-university education on nuclear applications. There are also many role models, women who made their career in nuclear power."

A trailblazer in the nuclear field, Voigt, who started her career as a biologist, is a staunch advocate of affirmative action for women in the work place. "It´s very important to establish quotas to ensure that women are part of the Organization. Since there are enough qualified women out there, filling vacancies with women, should not be a problem," she said.

After a three-decade long hiatus, nuclear power is anticipating a renaissance of new construction. "While there may be more women in the field now, the nuclear renaissance intensifies the competition to hire the best - both women and men," Clark explains. A network now connects the Agency´s Focal Point for Gender Concerns, based in the Division of Human Resources, with Member State representatives, the Points of Contact for the Recruitment of Women, to help the Agency "introduce more women to jobs in nuclear science by assisting us in identifying where we might be able to find more qualified female candidates," she said.

Currently, over 60 points of contact in more than 50 Member States ensure that IAEA vacancy notices and employment policies are known through articles in national, local and regional journals or magazines. The Points of Contacts have helped the Agency establish relationships with institutions, professional organizations, universities and other organisations, which Clark notes "now numbers around 500 contacts that receive our monthly vacancy announcements by email."

Inside the Agency, the Gender Focal Points within each Department work to level the gender playing field and serve as the ombudspersons to address gender issues.

Since the focal points were introduced, a decade ago, the number of professional female staff members in traditionally male preserves such as safeguards, nuclear energy, nuclear scientific applications and technical cooperation has risen from 18.3% in 2000 to 22.5% at the end of 2009.

That trend is supported by measures to help professional women balance the demands of a family and their profession through the Agency´s comprehensive gender policy.

Balancing Work and Family

"Over the past few years, we have implemented a number of work/life balance policies that contribute not only to the overall well-being of all staff, but also to those men and women with families. This makes us attractive as a potential employer from a recruitment angle: we create a good working atmosphere for our current and prospective staff," said Clark.

With women still considered society´s primary caregivers for small children, maternity and paternity leave, flexible working hours, part- time work and child care facilities address young families´ and women´s needs.

"Gender mainstreaming delivers benefits for both men and women, while giving female candidates convincing reasons to more seriously consider a career at the IAEA," she concluded.

Last update: 13 November 2014