How do we increase interest among young people, particularly girls, in studying science? Why are women still a minority among nuclear scientists and engineers? Why is it so important for the IAEA and other United Nations organizations to achieve gender parity? These and similar questions were the focus of the discussion at an IAEA forum marking International Women’s Day. The discussion this year centred on young professionals and the opportunities and challenges that young women face in the nuclear industry.
“I firmly believe that there is a bright future for women in the nuclear field,” said IAEA Director General Yukiya Amano in his welcome address. “I want our programmes to have a positive impact on the lives of women, in particular, as we assist our Member States in achieving the Sustainable Development Goals.”
Mr Amano said he took the goal of securing equal representation for women at all levels of staff at the IAEA very seriously.
The panellists, all young professionals working at the IAEA, shared their perspectives on the future of gender equality in the nuclear field. They suggested ways to support women in male-dominated industries and emphasized the need for strong mentors.
“Science knows no gender. Technology knows no gender,” said Noura El-Haj, a technical editor at the IAEA. “Women should not be put off by sciences.”
All of the young women in the panel agreed on one key message: the need to inspire girls at school to reject existing stereotypes that steer them away from science, technology, engineering and mathematics.
“I was never motivated by the how but rather by the why,” said Rosanna de Dios Fischer, a nuclear chemist specializing in waste management. “I work in this field because I want to make a difference, and because I know that nuclear energy is a really good way of decarbonizing the energy mix. Women should be made aware of the fact that nuclear science can have a really positive impact in the world.”
Leaders of tomorrow
Nuclear energy and technology are increasingly used in a diverse range of disciplines such as medicine, health, agriculture and industry. Growing demand in the nuclear workforce creates opportunities for women, and the IAEA works to encourage girls and young women to consider a career in the nuclear sector.
“As important as it is to get girls into science, technology, engineering and mathematics, it’s just as important to keep them interested throughout their studies and, later on, in their careers,” said Janice Dunn Lee, Deputy Director General and Head of the Department of Management, who moderated the panel discussion.
The IAEA encourages students by organizing university and school visits and activities with youth associations. These events are a way of highlighting the IAEA’s work under its Atoms for Peace and Development mission, and are also an investment in the next generation of nuclear experts, Ms Dunn Lee said.