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IAEA Profile: Diverse Experiences Shape Deputy Director General’s Holistic Approach to Complex Issues


Lydie Evrard, Deputy Director General and Head of the IAEA Department of Nuclear Safety and Security. (Photo: D. Calma/IAEA)

The IAEA profiles women in STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) to provide insight into career paths and to inspire and encourage readers, particularly women, to pursue careers in STEM. Read more profiles of IAEA women in STEM.

Variety is the spice of life – the proverbial saying helps to explain the diversity of interests and perspectives that Lydie Evrard embodies. As a young student, Evrard embraced mathematics and physics but also took an interest in literature. In higher education, she graduated from an engineering school and obtained a master’s degree in oil and gas operations, followed by another master’s degree in public administration. Today, as Deputy Director General (DDG) and Head of the IAEA Department of Nuclear Safety and Security, Evrard draws on her varied experiences, which also reflect her adaptability.

“It is a challenge to combine different perspectives from different areas, but at the same time, it is highly motivating and essential to better understand complex issues. It is also very rewarding from the human perspective,” Evrard said.

In the face of complex challenges, Evrard describes taking a holistic approach – believing that complex issues are interconnected and can be resolved efficiently and effectively only when considering the whole system, rather than distinct parts. “Complex issues are not one dimensional. A holistic approach provides a wider and deeper understanding of the different components and contribute to addressing the issue,” she said. “Listen to others’ views, encourage your teams to raise their voice, value diversity and be approachable: these are key factors in this regard,” she added.

She highlighted the importance of keeping an open mind and also her affinity for change – changing jobs and evolving her way of thinking when needed. “New challenges enable new ideas to grow,” Evrard said. “When you start a new job in a completely different area, it is an eye-opening opportunity. You can take a new approach, but at the same time, you benefit from lessons from your past experiences. Changes provide new challenges, which enable you to move forward. In contrast, routine would make me bored.”

Working in scientific and technical fields often dominated by men, Evrard noted that she has always considered herself as part of the group or team. Particularly since the beginning of the conflict in Ukraine, she has been a member of the Director General’s missions to Ukraine, where she is often one of few women on the expert team. “What matters the most is not that you are a man or a woman but your contribution to the mission,” she said.

“Being a woman is not a job,” she added, with a smile.

A varied career

Evrard describes a woman she finds particularly inspirational, Claudie Haigneré. Haigneré has a PhD in neuroscience, was an astronaut and served as a French minister – twice. “Some people are very inspiring when you consider the diversity of their backgrounds,” Evrard said. Some similarities can be drawn between Evrard and Haigneré. The two French women are both members of the Legion of Honour – the highest-ranking award in France for civil and military service. And like Haigneré’s career path, a recap of Evrard’s work spans diverse fields – from the oil and gas field and medical sector to product regulation within the European market, metrology and nuclear safety – and Evrard has also held positions with France’s Ministry of Environment and Ministry of Economy and Finance.

Evrard began her career in 1995 with the Ministry of Environment as an engineer reviewing oil field development and issuing mining permits. She moved to the field of environmental protection in relation to industrial facilities and then advanced her career in the nuclear industry. At the French Nuclear Safety Authority (ASN), she held positions covering a range of topics, including radiation protection, decommissioning, waste management, fuel cycle and research facilities. She was also part of teams at the emergency centre supporting the 24/7 response following the 2011 Fukushima Daiichi accident.

In 2013, Evrard once again expanded her horizons, this time at the Ministry of Economy, where she coordinated and regulated the French standardization, accreditation and metrology systems. “Standards, such as ISO standards, complement regulation as a way of addressing requirements and efficiently protecting people and the environment,” she said.

Circling back to the nuclear field, Evrard returned to ASN in 2017 as one of the five commissioners responsible for defining ASN’s general policy on nuclear safety and radiation protection.

Today, at the IAEA, she leads a department of approximatively 400 people, with the objective of strengthening nuclear safety and security worldwide. “This position gives me the opportunity to work in a multicultural environment, which I really enjoy, and enables me to further expand my scope of professional experience, including diplomacy as an essential component in my capacity as DDG.”

Although Evrard’s career spans multiple fields, protecting people and the environment has been a constant theme. Her varied experiences have not only enriched her career, but they have also shaped her perspective. “When you can build on different experiences, not only technical matters, you can also build a more comprehensive picture to address risk management,” she said.

Lydie Evrard, IAEA Deputy Director General and Head of the Department of Nuclear Safety and Security, during an IAEA mission to the Zaporizhzhya Nuclear Power Plant in Ukraine in 2022. (Photo: IAEA)

Words of advice

Evrard emphasizes the importance of maintaining a work-life balance, though it is a dynamic concept. “There is not a single definition of work-life balance. It is a balance between family, friends, professional activities and preserving time for yourself. It also depends on your personal situation at a given time,” she said. “For instance, when you have three young children, the balance has a different meaning compared with when your children are older.” Evrard accepts that it is not always possible to control the workload, and “sometimes your job is more demanding for many reasons, so you have to adapt,” she added.

Reflecting on her 28-year career thus far, Evrard recalls the many questions she sometimes asked herself before applying for a new job or accepting a job offer, wondering if the job would be compatible – professionally and personally – or if she would be able to manage the job well.

“Looking back, I realize that I was asking myself far too many questions before making a decision, while there were actually no issues once I began the job,” she explained. Of the obstacles that could hold back one’s career, internalized beliefs or doubts are a factor. “I have learned from the past, and I now ask myself far fewer questions when I consider a new opportunity.”

Evrard referred to commonly cited research that women are less likely than men to apply for a senior position, fearing they don’t meet all the requirements. She advises that “if you are very motivated and if this is a job that you look forward to doing, then trust yourself. You might not have all the answers at first, and you cannot predict everything for sure. But with conviction and determination, you can be confident that you will find solutions.”

The IAEA’s commitment to gender equality

In 2020, the IAEA launched the Marie Sklodowska-Curie Fellowship Programme (MSCFP) to support the next generation of women nuclear professionals by offering scholarships for master’s degree in nuclear-related fields. A new IAEA initiative launched in March this year, the Lise Meitner Programme, offers early- and mid-career women multiweek training visits to nuclear facilities.  

The IAEA strives to increase the representation of women, both in the nuclear field and in the IAEA. The Agency is committed to achieve gender parity – 50 per cent men and 50 per cent women – in the professional and higher categories by 2025.

Read more about the IAEA’s work on gender equality, and apply for vacancies, internships or pipelines.

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