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Institutional Support Critical in Achieving Gender Equality


Institutional and personal support are crucial for gender equality to be seen as the norm, especially in scientific fields that remain male-dominated, panellists agreed at an IAEA virtual discussion to mark International Women’s Day on 8 March.

To celebrate this year’s theme of women in leadership, the event attended by over 520 participants featured some of the first women in the IAEA’s history to hold leadership positions in key scientific areas of its work. They shared their motivation to work in science and discussed personal support systems and organizational policies and practices that have facilitated their success.

“In any area of professional work, the talent of both men and women are needed, and there is a need to tear down barriers for women,” said Rafael Mariano Grossi, IAEA Director General, who opened the event. “I have seen how difficult this is but, at the same time, how possible it is if we take the necessary steps. Institutions must play their part to open doors and possibilities where the system may not see it yet. For this, we need to establish alliances and strategic partnerships, so that the opportunities are there in a structured way.” 

According to UNESCO, women still account for less than 30 per cent of the world’s scientists and researchers. The panel, moderated by Sophie Boutaud de la Combe, the current Director of the IAEA’s Office of Public Information and Communication, agreed that with gender-responsive policies and practices, such as flexible working arrangements, gender neutral parental leave, networking and mentoring programmes, organizations can create inclusive workplace cultures that support women to pursue and excel in leadership roles.

Translating vision into actions

Gabriele Voigt, the former Director of the IAEA Office of Safeguards Analytical Services from 2010 to 2014, and the former President of Women in Nuclear (WiN) Global, highlighted that for gender equality policies to be successful they must be supported by top management. “This is the beginning and the end,” she said. “Top management must support diversity and gender balance. Having a good work life balance is particularly important, so an enabling environment addressing this and all of these requirements has to be put into place.”

The panelists discussed the substantial impact that leaders, both men and women, can have on creating a positive workplace culture and nurturing the ambitions of young professionals. Meera Venkatesh, the former Director of the IAEA Division of Physical and Chemical Sciences from 2011 to 2019, emphasized how the practical support she received from supervisors early in her career fostered an environment for her to grow and excel. “Leaders have a big role to play in the development of staff,” she said. “I was fortunate to have a very supportive supervisor when I started my career, who made me feel part of a team and encouraged my development. And I have tried to emulate this as I grew in my career. When such a support is given, the gratitude is shown by excelling in ​​​​​​work and going beyond the call of duty.”

Only 35 per cent of all higher education students enrolled in STEM subjects are women, according to research by UNESCO. All panellists highlighted the significant role that peer, community and family support have played in their professional success and choosing their career in STEM. Elena Buglova, the former Head of the IAEA Incident and Emergency Centre and the current Director of the IAEA Division of Nuclear Security, credited her upbringing in helping her break glass ceilings into leadership positions. “The importance of family values in setting a foundation is difficult to overestimate,” she said. “I have always had an interest in science, and this was rooted in growing up in a medical family. My parents didn’t differentiate between genders when it came to choosing careers, so the situation of gender equality was the norm in my family.”

Echoing this point, Najat Mokhtar, the current Deputy Director General of the IAEA Department of Nuclear Sciences and Applications, highlighted how the support of her social and workplace circles have driven her forward in her career. “I had my family, my husband, my friends and colleagues who were very supportive. Having a passion for what you do and a determination to do it – balancing your family and your work – gives you the strength to continue and to do things well.”

In his closing statement, Peter Frobel, the IAEA’s Director of Human Resources, emphasized the importance of institutional support to achieve gender equality and gender parity. He highlighted recent initiatives to increase the number of women staff in the Agency. In the course of last year, when the goal to reaching gender parity by 2025 was adopted, the number of women in senior leadership positions at the IAEA has increased by nearly five percentage points. Frobel also spoke about the importance of concrete actions in support of an enabling environment for all staff.

IAEA and gender equality

As an immediate example of establishing and expanding strategic partnerships for gender equality, an agreement was signed by Frobel on behalf of the IAEA and Voigt of WiN Global, directly following the panel discussion. The agreement formalizes and strengthens collaboration in the areas of representation of women and geographical diversity and addresses topics such as talent acquisition, mentoring and training.

As a concrete step to support gender equality in nuclear science, on International Women’s Day last year, the IAEA launched the Marie Sklodowska-Curie Fellowship Programme to support women working towards their Master’s degrees in nuclear science and technology, nuclear safety and security or non-proliferation. Since its launch, the Programme has received €6.8 million in funding from IAEA Member States and has awarded fellowships to 100 women students from around the world. The United Kingdom has provided the most recent donation of 500,000 euros to the programme, on 3 March 2021, to support 11 fellowships in the programme’s next cycle.

To view and apply for current IAEA vacancies, please visit the Agency’s employment webpage. To stay up-to-date with upcoming  vacancies, subscribe to the IAEA’s recruitment newsletter.

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