Nuclear industry calls out for more women

Over the summer Russia began to load uraniumn into the reactors on the Akademik Lomonosov, the world’s first floating nuclear power station, in the Arctic port of Murmansk.

Rosatom, the Russian state corporation and one of the leaders in the world's nuclear energy industry, said the station would supply 100,000 residents replacing the ailing Bilibino nuclear power station in Russia's Far North. Rosatom said the Akademik Lomonosov, named after the 18th-century Russian scientist Mikhail Lomonosov, would also power offshore oil platforms in the Arctic. Construction of a second floating plant is expected to begin in 2019, with Russian state media reporting the crafts could also be marketed to other countries.

Here in the UK, the fifth sector deal (announced in late June) which is part of the modern Industrial Strategy, will see £200 million invested into the nuclear industry. The goal is to ensure that nuclear energy continues to power the UK for years to come through major innovation, cutting-edge technology and ensuring a diverse and highly-skilled workforce.

Business and Energy Secretary Greg Clark said: “Nuclear energy not only fuels our power supply, it fuels local jobs, wages, economic prosperity.”

This is certainly true for the West Coast of Cumbria, and the impressive nuclear supply chain, some of which is located throughout the County.

In terms of jobs, the Nuclear sector deal is expected to deliver up to 100,000 new jobs by 2021, as well as increasing the gender diversity of the workforce. Currently, in the UK’s nuclear industry only 22% of the workforce is female, and of this, only 15% are female nuclear engineers. By 2030 – only 12 years away - the target for the sector is that 40% of the workforce is women.

So how do we help the Nuclear sector reach this diversity target as well as ensuring women and non-binary people are well represented in all employment sectors?

Within the sector itself, the Cumbrian branch of Women in Nuclear (WiN) was launched in March this year to help tackle the diversity question. This and the wider WiN UK group, focus on attraction, retention and dialogue to bolster gender diversity. Inspirational role models such as Dr Donna Connor, Head of Education and Skills at Sellafield Ltd are important to help females aspire to the sector – embedding them into the County’s careers education strategy is also important to the goal of achieving the sector’s diversity target.

The establishment of the Cumbrian Career Hub will help to continue the improvement of careers education as well as the continued roll out of the Enterprise Adviser Network and engagement of Employer Mentors.

However, being inspired and being attracted to the sector is only part of the solution, retention is crucial.

In the workplace, legislation outlaws discrimination, and powerful voices support women’s rights and advancement in the workplace, but there still has not been a parallel revolution in care and domestic work. Although there have been recent changes involving childcare and parental leave - it is still thought that men don’t participate equally in paid or unpaid childcare, elderly care or domestic work in the UK – which can therefore have an impact on a woman’s career path and choices further down the line.

To help the Nuclear sector and other industries reach their diversity goals, we as a society also need to change our cultural expectations too and actively promote personal development programmes as well as career education to help change gender stereotypes.

One way this is happening in a small way in Cumbria is through the Inspira managed National Citizen Service (NCS) programme for 15-17 year olds.

Along with adrenaline fuelled activities and social action, NCS promotes independent living which includes simple tasks such as cooking, baking and cleaning as a team regardless of gender.

We have certainly come a long way since the start of the suffragette movement in the last 1890’s and the belief women simply wouldn’t be able to understand how parliament worked.

Perhaps in the future we will see floating power stations off our shores managed by a team of women.