Many NEA member countries face serious skills shortages that must be addressed in the next decade and beyond if nuclear technologies are to be applied safely and effectively. There is a demand for more scientists and engineers with the capacity to support new projects, effective regulation, and advanced research and development, and who can also serve as key leaders in the future.
A lack of gender balance in the talent pipeline and and leadership positions in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM), including in nuclear technology, represents a tremendous loss of potential innovation and growth and a critical threat to the future viability of the field. Science and engineering benefit from diverse teams to spur collaboration and development and to drive productivity.
Attracting, retaining, and supporting a gender-balanced workforce is important for the nuclear sector’s sustainability and is of increasing importance to many NEA member countries. The NEA is working with its member countries to ensure a robust, diverse and skilled nuclear workforce capable of developing innovative solutions for clean, reliable energy to power economic growth and mitigate climate change.
The NEA collected data on gender balance in the nuclear sector in NEA countries to understand workforce representation, career trajectories, and challenges to improving gender balance in the sector, especially in STEM and leadership positions. In 2021, the NEA polled over 8 000 women in the nuclear workforce in 32 countries, and collected human resources data from 96 nuclear organisations in 17 countries. The findings are summarised in Gender Balance in the Nuclear Sector report.
Based on the findings from data collected in 2021, the NEA proposed recommendations that focus on removing barriers to gender-based impacts and barriers to entry and advancement in the nuclear field. The Recommendation of the Council on Improving the Gender Balance in the Nuclear Sector was formally adopted at the OECD Ministerial Council Meeting in Paris, France, in June 2023. Through the Recommendation, member countries that choose nuclear energy as part of their energy policies could help promote change among actors in the nuclear sector.
To promote gender balance and the development of female leaders in the nuclear energy sector, the NEA organises international mentoring workshops that connect female students interested in STEM careers with nationally and internationally accomplished women in this area. Since 2017, the Agency, together with national organisations, has held mentoring activities in Canada, France, Japan, Kenya, Romania, Spain, and the United Kingdom.
The Global Forum on Nuclear Education, Science, Technology and Policy, an NEA initiative connecting academic institutions with member countries and nuclear energy stakeholders, has launched a working group on achieving gender balance in the academic field. The group develops activities focused on promoting nuclear engineering and technology programmes to underrepresented demographics; fostering initiatives to encourage women inclusion within the nuclear energy community; and promoting active efforts to invite men to become ‘allies’ to the cause. As part of these efforts, the Rising Stars Programme offers an annual workshop welcoming students and early-career researchers whose integration into the global nuclear community would improve gender balance.