The nuclear industry – not just for men

Adriènne Kelbie, Chief Executive of the Office for Nuclear Regulation
Adriènne Kelbie, Chief Executive of the Office for Nuclear Regulation addressing the Women in Nuclear Conference

The first thing to say about this week’s Women in Nuclear UK conference was initially it felt very weird. I thought I had walked onto the set of a ‘flip side’ recording – a brilliant series on YouTube which explores reversed gender roles. At a guess, men made up about 15% of all the delegates and for a nuclear event that statistic is quite incredible.

It just felt odd, and now I understand and appreciate why young women dread industry events – it’s incredibly daunting being the minority. Walking into a room full of women, I immediately thought I was going to be told off! However the conference had one of, if not the friendliest atmosphere I have ever encountered at an industry event. Everyone was talking to each other no matter how old or well paid or senior they were and it was brilliant.

In some quarters there is unease towards groups such as Women in Nuclear (from both men and women) and like many others I don’t believe in positive discrimination. But from the President’s opening remarks it was clear this is not what the group wants or encourages. It is about equal opportunity; tackling unconscious bias and offering women and everyone else the same opportunities in a sector which craves talented young people.

With 18GW of new nuclear generation set to storm onto the grid, existing generation ongoing and an extensive decommissioning and waste management programme underway, thousands of new jobs will be created over the course of a generation and the industry mustn’t (consciously or not) forget about 50% of the population.

The Nuclear Industry Association’s own statistics show 17% of its members’ employees are female, but these don’t uncover what level they work at, how old they are and what they do. Nevertheless it is not hard to determine that women are less likely to stay in the nuclear industry for a long period of time and ultimately reach senior positions. Just attend the next nuclear industry event filled with ‘senior leaders’…

DSC_1807Unlike most other events it was also nice to hear a female perspective on the industry and a strong focus on how companies can improve and grow the individuals in their teams. It seems unfair to pick one speaker because they were genuinely all very good. However, Adriènne Kelbie, the newly appointed ONR Chief Executive gave a rousing speech about her journey from school to Deputy Chief Executive at 26, University at 43 and now the first ever female CEO of a nuclear organisation. Strong role models such as Adriènne are crucial for the sector and although there are a handful of brilliant ones for women and other minorities, the sector needs more to attract and importantly retain the required skills.

While writing this I wondered if I was morphing into Sandi Toksvig but I can reassure you I haven’t. Groups such as these should be explored and scrutinised because militant feminism is definitely not the answer. Instead Women in Nuclear UK focuses on the importance of strong leadership, equal opportunity and diverse workforces as the key to a successful business, and that’s what won me over.