NEA gender balance work highlighted at key international events

Session 2  Energising gender equality in the energy transition era(2)

Gender balance has considerable implications for the future of the nuclear sector, which needs a robust and diverse pool of talent to drive performance and innovation.

In the evolving landscape of scientific and technological advancements, the issue of gender balance within the nuclear sector stands as both a challenge and an opportunity. The NEA has been gathering relevant data, formulating policy recommendations, and developing ongoing communications, engagement, and educational activities in order to support countries to improve the gender balance in the sector. These efforts were highlighted at the OECD Forum on Gender Equality and the International Conference on Nuclear Security (ICONS).

Dr Fiona Rayment, Vice-Chair of the NEA Steering Committee for Nuclear Energy and Chair of the NEA High-Level Group on Improving the Gender Balance in the Nuclear Sector (HLG-GB), spoke on a panel at the OECD Forum on Gender Equality on 10 June 2024. The Forum, which took place at the OECD headquarters in Paris, focused on advancing gender equality amid the green, energy, and digital transitions.

Fiona Rayment OECD Gender Forum 

Dr Fiona Rayment at the the 2024 OECD Forum on Gender Equality.

Dr Rayment shared her experience as a lifelong advocate of expanding representation of women in science and engineering, and particularly in the nuclear sector. She talked about her early career experience of being one of the few women working as scientists and engineers and how people looked at her as the ‘odd one out.’

Dr Rayment also highlighted the importance of collecting data on gender balance in the field. “Data is essential. It shines a light on imbalances and spurs action. The NEA is ideally placed to work centrally with governments and stakeholders to ensure that data is available and collected consistently and fairly,” she added.

Drawing from the HLG-GB’s qualitative and quantitative study findings on gender balance, Dr Rayment shared with the panel that women make up only 25% of the nuclear workforce worldwide, representing less than 20% of STEM roles and even less in leadership positions. She also discussed the challenges of attracting and retaining women in STEM fields, underscoring the need for systemic change to support gender balance, which are areas of work for the HLG-GB.

Furthering these discussions globally, Florence Maher, Social Scientist advancing data and policy on gender balance and safety culture in the NEA Division of Radiological Protection and Human Aspects of Nuclear Safety (RP-HANS), presented recent NEA work at the International Conference on Nuclear Security (ICONS) in Vienna, Austria, on 23 May 2024.

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Florence Maher (sixth from the right) at the International Conference on Nuclear Security (ICONS) in Vienna on 23 May 2024.

Ms Maher’s presentation focused on trends in gender balance, drawing from an initial preparatory study of student data conducted by the NEA. This study, documented in the forthcoming working paper, entitled Perceptions of Gender Balance and Inclusivity by Female Students and Trainees in the Global Nuclear Sector, draws on data from the 2021 NEA study on gender balance across 32 countries.

The student data contrasts with the broader female workforce findings as documented in the NEA’s Gender Balance in the Nuclear Sector report, which revealed significant concerns regarding hostility, institutional barriers, lack of mentoring and leadership among established female professionals. The students and trainees were more optimistic overall about inclusivity in the nuclear workplace and their career prospects; however, they were just as negative or even more so than the female workforce about their perceptions of the impact of pregnancy, motherhood, and spousal careers on their career prospects.

Addressing these challenges proactively is vital for attracting and retaining the next generation of talent into the nuclear sector. These findings offer promise for gender balance and inclusion in the sector and underscore the importance of workforce development strategies to better support women in their STEM careers, which will in turn better support the future of the nuclear energy sector.

Read more about the NEA’s work on improving gender balance.

See also