A sustainable future has diversity at its heart

24 September 2020

World Nuclear Association Director General Agneta Rising said today that the changes needed to transition to a more sustainable future will not happen without the participation of a diverse workforce, and the greater inclusion of women. Speaking to participants in a side event to the International Atomic Energy Agency's 64th General Conference, Rising said the energy sector remains one of the most gender-imbalanced, and that the nuclear sector was no exception.

World Nuclear Association Director General Agneta Rising speaking today at the IAEA side event on gender balance

After more than seven years in the role, Rising is handing over next month to Dr Sama Bilbao y León, currently head of the Division of Nuclear Technology Development and Economics at OECD Nuclear Energy Agency. Prior to leading World Nuclear Association, Rising was vice president of Environment at Sweden's Vattenfall. Among her other roles, she served for four years on the IAEA's International Nuclear Safety Group and was awarded the Atoms for Peace Prize in 2013.

Rising told participants in today's side event that gender equality is something she has been passionate about throughout her career.

"2020 will be remembered as the year when the world faced a global pandemic. It has highlighted the importance of the resilience and reliability which nuclear reactors provide. There is an excellent example of this inherent resilience of nuclear - which also takes us back to where my own career in nuclear energy began," she said.

Earlier this year, Sweden's electricity grid requested Reactor 1 at the Ringhals Nuclear Power Plant to come back online earlier to protect the electricity system - providing the much needed stability upon which we build our societies, she noted.

"And, perhaps needless to say, but the global coronavirus pandemic has had profound impacts on societies around the world. In many countries it has prompted reviews by governments of how best to build stronger, cleaner and more resilient societies," she said.

In July, World Nuclear Association published its white paper - Building a Stronger Tomorrow: Nuclear Power in the Post-Pandemic World - which sets out the important role nuclear energy must play to build a truly sustainable society, whilst preventing future crises by dealing with bigger, chronic problems, such as climate change, air pollution and energy poverty.

There are still "too few women" choosing to study science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM subjects), she said, noting there are many initiatives worldwide to reverse this trend. "We see a growing number of 'women in STEM' campaigns, national and international initiatives and fellowship programmes."

There is the so-called 'glass ceiling' that is "by no means unique" to the energy sector, she said, but which is still making it difficult for women to access senior positions. "We thankfully do see a growing proportion of women in senior technical positions in every branch of nuclear science and technology, which is very encouraging," she said.

Women currently account for less than a quarter of the workforce in the nuclear sector worldwide, which is "hurting" not only diversity within the industry, but also its competitiveness, she said. "Because a diverse pool of talent means a better functioning business." It also helps to increase community's trust in nuclear when the workforce better reflects the diversity of society, she added.

"The nuclear industry must have attractive programmes to recruit bright and driven women, or they will be missing out on the competitive advantage their talents could bring," she said. "There are several existing initiatives to work towards a better gender balance and inclusion within the energy sector, and there is potential for a lot more."

She focused on two initiatives.

"A relatively recent one is the Equal by 30 campaign, which the Association, as well as many of its members, has joined. It is a joint initiative between the International Energy Agency and the Clean Energy Ministerial which aims to accelerate the participation of women in the world's clean energy transition and to close the gender gap in employment opportunities and earnings," she said.

"Another well-known initiative is Women in Nuclear, which advocates for stronger roles for women in nuclear science and technology and to increase awareness of the importance of gender balance in historically male-dominated fields. I had the pleasure of chairing the very first meeting of Women in Nuclear Energy in 1990 - which later on became Women in Nuclear. I am proud to be a co-founder and its second president. Women in Nuclear went from being a European to a truly global organisation under my presidency, and I am particularly proud of having been part of the launch for Women in Nuclear Russia chapter in 2017."

Nuclear energy will play a key role in providing abundant, affordable and clean electricity and ensuring that the UN Sustainable Development Goals are met, she said.

"In order to build a truly sustainable tomorrow, it is crucial that diversity - be it in terms of gender, thought, or electricity generator - is at the heart of policy considerations. After all, in order to resolve the challenges we face today, we cannot continue with the same mindset that created them.

"In order, however, to fully realise the awesome potential of the atom, it is crucial that we encourage women, and recognise the contribution they make throughout our industry. Diversity is crucial to make our whole community more dynamic, and ultimately, more successful."

The side event, Gender balance and inclusion in nuclear energy as the key to success in sustainable development, was organised by the IAEA, Russian state nuclear corporation Rosatom and Women in Nuclear Russia.

Researched and written by World Nuclear News