UK women in nuclear campaign for change

UK women in nuclear campaign for change

Only 7% of engineering professionals in the UK are female – the lowest in Europe – and women working across the nuclear industry are determined to change that.



Women in Nuclear UK’s first conference, on 20 January in London, sought to gain industry and political support for promoting gender diversity across the industry.

While Britain is worst in Europe, in Latvia, Bulgaria and Cyprus nearly 30% of engineers are women, the conference heard.

The event reflected WiN UK’s three core themes:

  • attracting more women into the nuclear sector
  • keeping those already in it
  • having a dialogue with the public, especially women, about the importance of nuclear energy as part of a balanced energy policy. Recent research shows fewer than half (26%) of women support the use of nuclear power when compared to 57% of men.

Female talent

Many companies sent representatives, all expressing the same message: “We are recruiting and we don’t want to miss out on female talent.”

Some reported on how seriously they are taking this, with examples such as:

  • devising equality and diversity strategies
  • supporting women’s networks
  • changing recruitment materials
  • appraising leaders on their inclusive behaviour
  • promoting diversity among their supply chains
  • measuring progress, including through third-party accreditation.

Unconscious bias

On recruitment and retention, two messages were echoed by several speakers. First, tackling unconscious bias is crucial.

Alan Rayment, chief operating officer of Horizon, emphasised that there was a long way to go, but explained that on this topic his company is “fully supportive and committed, putting a lot of resources in to get this right”.

Compulsory unconscious bias training is now the norm in some companies.

Targets needed

The second message was that if you don’t set targets, you will not improve. Dr Karen Russ, senior operations officer at Amec Foster Wheeler, likened diversity to any business objective – if it’s important, set a target. “This is just how business is done,” she said.

There was also active debate on whether quotas for women are necessary to counter unconscious bias, which effectively establishes a de facto quota for men.

Trade unions

Regrettably, trade unions’ contribution to this important work was not addressed by speakers.

Nevertheless, the sense of momentum was striking, fuelled in part by the industry’s talent shortage. WiN’s next challenge is to develop its three-year plan.

Many Prospect branches will want to develop their negotiating agenda to ensure that employers understand their competitors are getting serious.

Prospect in action

Prospect national secretary Gill Wood is an associate member of WiN UK’s executive board.

She and others will be debating these issues, including the contribution of trade unions, with an invited audience at a joint Prospect/Institution of Technology on 4 March called “Progressing women’s careers in STEM”. Confirmed speakers include:

  • Naomi Climer, president, Sony Media Cloud Services
  • Anne Jenkins, head of diversity at BAE Systems
  • Peter Cheese – chief executive of the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development
  • Miranda Kerschel – joint president of Women in Nuclear UK
  • Baroness Margaret Prosser – former chair of the Women in Work Commission.

The objectives for the day are to better understand the practices and behaviours that affect women’s progression in science, technology, engineering and maths careers and collaborate to enable organisations to design and implement better approaches.

Members who want to be involved in Prospect’s women in STEM initiatives should email Sue Ferns, Prospect’s director of research and communications, on sue.ferns@prospect.org.uk

WiN’s growing influence

So far WiN UK has attracted 500 professionals as members, including both male and female senior executives in key UK nuclear businesses.

It has already had a whirlwind 12 months, and achievements include:

  • holding a mentoring event
  • organising a visit of students to Springfields Fuels
  • raising its profile on social media
  • involvement in other conferences and private meetings with government and industry stakeholders.

Joining WiN

Membership is free and not just limited to women. WiN UK is eager to engage senior men in the industry who recognise the specific issues facing women. For more information, please contact events@womeninnuclear.org.uk.
The group is on Twitter @WiNuclear and LinkedIn.