The IAEA celebrated International Women’s Day this year with a panel including women who have broken down barriers to achieve success in technical careers at nuclear power plants.
“I am very pleased that the focus is on women who have already achieved a great deal in their careers – and in the field of nuclear power, in particular,” said IAEA Director General Yukiya Amano in his opening remarks. “Our panellists are the proof that Breaking Barriers – our motto today – really is possible.”
Mr. Amano also voiced his commitment to achieving equal representation for women at all levels at the IAEA.
These women leaders shared their experiences of how they established themselves as the front-runners in an industry where women are under-represented in top positions, especially in technical areas.
“We are in roles that are non-traditional and sometimes being women we have to adjust our behaviours to the situation to some extent and we often have to prove our credibility and capabilities. Expect challenge. We work in an industry where we can make no mistakes,” said Amy Ferko, Plant Manager of the Braidwood Nuclear Power Plant (NPP) for Exelon in the United States, and one of the panellists.
“The best advice I got when I started working in the industry is not to be afraid to be the only woman in the room,” said Eva Halldén, Senior Executive Advisor – Nuclear for Vattenfall AB in Sweden.
Other panellists included Satu Katajala, Vice-President of Fortum Generation and General Manager of the Loviisa Nuclear Power Plant in Finland, and Mikhail Chudakov, Deputy Director General and Head of the IAEA Department of Nuclear Energy. The discussion was moderated by Mary Alice Hayward, Deputy Director General and Head of the IAEA Department of Management.
Chudakov, drawing on his experience as a plant manager in Russia earlier in his career, said he believed women are more aware of the need to follow procedures and safety culture and therefore make good operators and shift supervisors. He would like to see more women working in NPPs and within technical positions in the IAEA.
“Things are different now than when I started my career. Today, I have a boss who is a woman, the head of the nuclear regulator is a woman, and the head of nuclear safety in another Finnish utility is a woman,” said Satu Katajala, Vice-President of Fortum Generation and General Manager of the Loviisa Nuclear Power Plant in Finland. “There are so many women taking my nuclear classes at the university.”
The panellists agreed that there are more women working in a range of positions in NPPs than in the past and that what is needed for innovation is a good mix of perspectives from women, men, experienced and junior staff.
In closing, Mary Alice Hayward remarked: “When you’re good, it should not matter what gender you are. There are very few women who have been operators and plant managers at NPPs, and this was a great opportunity to highlight the panellists’ achievements to encourage women to pursue technical careers in the nuclear field.”