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From Career Opportunities to Mentors: How to Increase the Role of Women in the Nuclear Sector

Participants attending the round table event "Women in All Things Nuclear - The Future Workforce".

(Photo: V. Fournier/IAEA)

The nuclear sector lacks female professionals and managers, and only through offering appealing career paths and strong mentoring will the sector attract more women. The importance of developing a workforce pipeline that includes women was the topic of the round table event ‘Women in All Things Nuclear – The Future Workforce,’ held on the margins of the 59th IAEA General Conference today. Discussions centred on how to attract students and young female professionals to the nuclear field, and how to retain them.

Women are good for business

“Companies benefit from having women in senior management,” said moderator Laura Rockwood, Executive Director of the Vienna Center for Disarmament and Non-Proliferation (VCDNP), in opening the event. Rockwood noted that companies that increase leadership opportunities for women see improvements in organizational effectiveness, particularly those with three or more women in senior management roles, according to statistics from UN Women.

Fixing the leaks

A number of participants noted that while there had been some improvements, there was still a tendency for women to drop out of the nuclear workforce pipeline, either during their studies or at some point in their career. The career paths of many women are not always typical; many may “step in and out of the work force” and find it difficult to return or to advance in their careers when they do return, according to Laura Holgate, Senior Director for Weapons of Mass Destruction, Terrorism and Threat Reduction at the National Security Council in the United States. “Just as there is flexibility in designing day-to-day work, there should be flexibility in career paths,” Holgate said.

The critical role played by role models and mentors — both men and women — was highlighted several times in the discussion. Female role models can help challenge preconceptions and affect the career aspirations of girls and young women. “It’s difficult to believe you can do [a job] if you’ve never seen women like you do it,” said Susan le Jeune d'Allegeershecque, Ambassador to Austria and UK Permanent Representative to the United Nations and other International Organisations in Vienna.

Mentoring is the responsibility of everyone, regardless of their level, participants said. Women should be encouraged to “reach down, but also left and right” in mentoring other women, and to “be open to giving and to receiving help from one another”, said Valerie Segovia, Director of Outreach and Development of the Nuclear Power Institute at Texas A&M University. According to Janice Dunn Lee, IAEA Deputy Director General and Head of the Department of Management, mentoring needs to be combined with advocacy: “Women need to find sponsors, and we need to be sponsors.”

Developing the pipeline

The IAEA, for its part, is actively focusing on developing a youth – and women –  talent pipeline. This includes regular outreach activities aimed at primary and secondary school students, such as visits to the IAEA, including to its nuclear science laboratories, and opportunities for students to work with IAEA subject matter experts. Dunn Lee emphasized the ongoing nature of the process, which also includes outreach to universities and support of events such the Nuclear Olympiad, as well as fellowship and internship programmes aimed at supporting young professionals early in their careers. “We need to understand that [developing the pipeline] doesn’t just end; it keeps going…. We have to keep thinking about the next opportunity, and the next opportunity, and to spread the word.”

The round table event was co-hosted by the IAEA and the Vienna Center for Disarmament and Non-Proliferation (VCDNP), with support from the International Network of Emerging Nuclear Specialists (INENS), the IAEA Chapter of Women in Nuclear (WiN IAEA), and the Permanent Missions of France, the United Kingdom and the United States of America to the IAEA. Participants included the IAEA Resident Representatives of Brazil, France, Kazakhstan, the United Arab Emirates and the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland.


It’s difficult to believe you can do [a job] if you’ve never seen women like you do it.
Susan le Jeune d'Allegeershecque, Ambassador to Austria and UK Representative to the UN and other International Organizations
Last update: 04 Sep 2017

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