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Addressing Gender Balance in Nuclear Safeguards

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Distinguished women working in nuclear safeguards gathered to discuss their experience and suggest steps to improve gender balance in the sector. (Photo: D. Calma/IAEA)

Celebrating the diverse careers of women in nuclear safeguards while exploring ways to advance gender balance was among the topics discussed at the Symposium on International Safeguards in Vienna last week.

At two panel discussions on the topic of improving gender balance in nuclear safeguards, leading women from a range of professions provided insights into their work and shared their personal stories. The panels, which included lawyers, diplomats, engineers, scientists, policy specialists and regulators, also discussed strategies for success and made recommendations for young women looking at careers in safeguards.  

“There is an opportunity to break down preconceptions around gender and background by attracting a range of different people into our organization,” said Mina Golshan, Director of the Office for Nuclear Regulation in the United Kingdom. “When upskilling safeguards workers in my organization, I noticed that a lack of preconception around gender and background worked to our advantage.”

Speakers highlighted the broad range of career options in nuclear safeguards, with one panel focusing on policy, law and regulatory careers in safeguards, and the other on science, technology, engineering and math.

Sonia Fernández-Moreno, a Planning and Evaluation Officer with the Brazilian-Argentine Agency for Accounting and Control, spent more than 15 years as a member of the IAEA’s Standing Advisory Group on Safeguards Implementation. “It is rewarding for me to share my knowledge of nuclear safeguards, non-proliferation and nuclear energy for peaceful uses. I hope my positive experience as a woman in safeguards, and as a manager for many years, may inspire the young generations to pursue rewarding careers in this relevant field.” 

Flexible work arrangements

Panelists discussed the challenges that exist for women within the nuclear sector and acknowledged the importance of flexible working arrangements and family friendly policies already in place at, among others, the IAEA. Audience polling during the session validated these approaches.

“It is assumed that women will have to take time off for their family. Flexible work schedules give families the choice to decide which parent should take the time off,” said Golshan, adding that the managerial and/or peer pressure that staff need to be available around the clock is a challenge for women with family responsibilities.

The IAEA’s progress on women’s representation

The IAEA is committed to improving women’s representation throughout the organization, including through a range of targeted outreach and awareness-raising activities. As of December 31 2017, the proportion of women in the professional and higher categories at the IAEA reached 29%, compared with 22% ten years earlier. However, in the Department of Safeguards, women make up only 22% of regular staff in the professional and higher categories, reflecting the under-representation of women in the nuclear sector overall.

IAEA Director General Yukiya Amano has stated that he would like to achieve gender parity at the most senior level by 2021.

“The Agency has taken concrete steps to improve the representation of women in the Secretariat through targeted recruitment efforts and awareness-raising activities, and we’ve seen improvement in the representation of women at the Agency,” said Mary Alice Hayward, Deputy Director General and Head of the Department of Management at the IAEA. “But we are conscious of the challenges that remain. Gender equality in the workplace requires more than improving the statistics — it also means making sure the IAEA is a place where women want to work.”

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