Attracting more women into science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) fields and supporting them to advance to leadership roles is an important goal that countries are pursuing through international co-operation under the framework of the OECD Recommendation on Improving the Gender Balance in the Nuclear Sector. Gender balance has considerable implications for the future of nuclear energy, which needs a robust and diverse workforce to drive performance and innovation. However, NEA data shows that women are only one-quarter of the nuclear workforce in NEA countries, and even less in STEM and leadership positions.
On 11-12 October 2023, the NEA Task Group on Improving the Gender Balance in the Nuclear Sector (GB-TG) met in Paris to discuss promotion, implementation, and monitoring of the Recommendation, which was adopted by OECD member countries on 8 June 2023. In order to co-ordinate and support countries to fulfil their commitments under the Recommendation, the Steering Committee approved a new mandate for the group from 2024-2026. A high-level group of senior representatives with policy representatives will guide the implementation, supported by four sub-groups focused on the Recommendation’s three pillars of attracting, retaining, and advancing women, as well as data.
At its meeting, the 17 GB-TG delegates from 11 countries and the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) were joined by four representatives from the Women in Nuclear (WiN) Young Generation Group. These young professionals under 35 years of age contributed input to the development of the programmes of work for the sub-groups and shared their experiences with GB-TG members and NEA staff.
Countries adhering to the Recommendation are committed to undertake data collection and analysis, and establish accountability regarding the effectiveness of efforts to improve gender balance. The GB-TG’s Data Sub-Group has initiated a collaboration with the International Gender Champions Impact Group on Gender Equality in Nuclear Regulatory Agencies (IGC-IG) to collect and analyse data on women in the international nuclear regulatory body workforce. The results will assist IGC-IG members, which include non-NEA countries, to set concrete goals and take actions.
The NEA has several programmes that help to attract women into the nuclear sector and to enhance the educational pipeline. The Agency co-operates with national organisations to hold STEM mentoring workshops for adolescent girls. In 2023, six such workshops were held in Canada, Ghana, Japan, Korea, Romania, and the United Kingdom. Workshop participants included indigenous youth and underrepresented communities. Additional workshops are planned for 2024.
At the university level, in September 2023 the NEA Global Forum on Nuclear Education, Science, Technology and Policy inaugurated its Rising Stars Programme to reach within the nuclear field, adjacent disciplines, and beyond to welcome female rising stars in science, technology, education and policy into the global nuclear community. The inaugural two-day workshop was hosted by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology from 20-21 September 2023 and offered around 50 female students and postgraduates from around the world professional development, panel talks, and networking opportunities.
The NEA Global Forum, an NEA initiative connecting academic institutions with member countries and nuclear energy stakeholders, established a working group on achieving gender balance in the academic field. This group is also developing data-driven inclusion guidelines for universities. In the NEA Nuclear Education, Skills and Technology Framework (NEST) for early career nuclear experts, 30% of the Fellows to date have been women.