Women in the Nuclear Field Share their Stories at International Women’s Day Event

Accomplished women working in nuclear disciplines spoke about their personal experiences of building a career in the nuclear field at an event organized by the IAEA to mark International Women’s Day. Titled ‘Inspiring Stories of Women in the Nuclear Field’, the event celebrated the achievements of women working in different areas of the nuclear sector.

IAEA Director General Yukiya Amano opened the event by outlining the IAEA’s efforts to improve the representation of women within the organization, particularly at higher levels. “Daily efforts are needed to look into recruitment and make a judgement in each recruitment process in order to increase the number of women. We have encouraged all recruitment officers to have this in mind when they are engaged in recruitment,” he said.

Mary Alice Hayward, IAEA Deputy Director General and Head of the Department of Management, moderated the event and spoke about the value of hearing individual stories of women in the nuclear field.

“What I’ve learned is that personal stories are what really help each of us become more inspired to advocate for gender equality,” she said. “Sometimes our stories can be challenging and talk about the adversity that each of us feels, but the best part about these stories is that for every setback, there is a victory.”

Rumina Velshi, President and Chief Executive Officer of the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission (CNSC), spoke about her experience as both a student and a professional in the nuclear field in Canada and the changes she has witnessed over the years.

“I was treated as an equal as an engineering student. But that wasn’t the same when I started working,” she said, before describing her work as an engineer at a nuclear power plant early in her career. “The plant was not built ever expecting women to work there,” she said, adding that there was no radiation protection clothing in women’s sizes and no changing rooms for women. “Now, life has changed in Ontario. You see a lot more women around, at all different levels. We now also have an environment where women can call out and say when something doesn’t work for them.”

Marina Belyaeva, Deputy Director of International Activities and Director of the International Cooperation Department at Russia’s ROSATOM, spoke about her inspiration to pursue a career in the nuclear industry and her work in areas such as non-proliferation, export control, safeguards implementation and the promotion of nuclear energy.

“When I graduated from school I was inspired by the developments of the nuclear industry. It was a time when nuclear energy was on the rise and it presented many possibilities for women and men to apply their knowledge,” she said. “One of my most exciting stories is being part of the creation of the first fuel bank of the IAEA in Angarsk, Russia. A team of specialists worked to create the first international enrichment centre in Angarsk and low enriched uranium reserves, but a lot of the practical work was done by me and my young female colleague.”

Amelia Lee Zhi Yi, Mentoring Coordinator for the UN Nuclear Young Generation at the IAEA, spoke about her achievements in developing and implementing the IAEA’s first cross-departmental mentoring programme.

“Time and time again my professional and academic career has benefitted from the presence of mentors in my life. What was exciting about this programme was that junior professionals in all departments could be paired with a senior professional from a working area that was beyond the positions they held,” she said. She also mentioned that women accounted for 75% of mentees, but only 25% of mentors in the programme, and that women should start believing in their ability to serve as role models. “I would like to see women, not just in senior but also junior positions, to start believing that they can be role models,” she added.