EDF Energy has more than doubled the female proportion of its new intake of graduate engineers to 32% within a year, one of the company’s executives told the first meeting of the newly-formed UK chapter of Women in Nuclear (WiN).
The event was held in parliament on 23 June to coincide with the UK’s National Women in Engineering day.
Paul Spence, EDF’s director of strategy and corporate affairs, said women now account for 20% of the company’s apprentices, up from 6%, thanks to a 190% improvement in the number of female applications.
Making a career in nuclear power attractive to more women “is possible with the right effort”, Spence said. “But if we are going to make science and engineering more accessible, then we have to start with girls – and boys – early in their school careers,” he said.
Around ten million school children have used EDF’s Pod program, which aims to promote the STEM subjects – science, technology, engineering and maths, he said.
According to the Nuclear Industry Association, women make up 11-24% of the UK nuclear industry, suggesting that it is outperforming other STEM sectors.
But Baroness Verma, a junior minister at the Department of Energy and Climate Change (DECC), said the energy industry was losing too many women at the middle-management stage of their careers.
Verma on 12 June launched an initiative to promote female leadership in the UK’s energy sector that aims for 30% of executive energy company board members and 40% of energy company middle management to be female by 2030.
The Nuclear Decommissioning Authority (NDA) and the Office for Nuclear Regulation have to report back to Verma in six months on how well they have implemented her mission to achieve greater diversity.
Kenna Kintrea, quality assurance director at the NDA, said the energy industry could learn from the team who organised the 2012 Olympic Games in its approach to diversity.
Prior to joining NDA last year, Kintrea was deputy director of venues and infrastructure at the Olympic Delivery Authority (ODA), and before that was director of quality and program management at Ford Motor Company.
“Even coming from the car industry, I found the gender imbalance of the construction industry shocking,” Kintrea said.
To address that imbalance, the ODA made it a condition of construction contract bids that companies revealed their employment statistics. And the ODA gave the responsibility for delivering against targets for employable skills and diversity, not to the human resources departments of construction companies, but to the construction directors themselves, she said.
Sue Fearns, director of communications and research at trade union Prospect, said key performance indicators – a measurement of performance used by many companies – could be useful in achieving a gender balance in the energy industry.
“But there is no point in setting targets if there is no monitoring and enforcement of them,” Fearns said.
Prospect’s members include 12,000 people working in the nuclear industry.
WiN UK is one of more than 30 international chapters of Women in Nuclear Global, which has 25,000 members in 102 countries. WiN UK aims to launch with a formal constitution and executive board in January 2015.