New build bringing more women into nuclear engineering23 June 2022
Traditionally, the nuclear sector has been a male-dominated industry. This International Women in Engineering Day we can and should do more to rebalance representation across the sector, say Sizewell C Director of Finance Julia Pyke, and Civil Programme Director Sarah Williamson.
Engineering offers well-paid, high-skilled, and secure jobs. Getting women into these roles is therefore critical to closing the gender pay gap. We also know how important diversity is in providing the broad perspectives, quality leadership, and robust decision-making that drives cutting-edge innovation in the sector.
Much is being done to solve this problem and improve women and girls’ access to engineering. The UK government has backed a swathe of programmes designed to encourage girls to enter the sector. In January, Equalities Minister Liz Truss launched two taskforces to increase women’s participation in STEM. In March, Minister for Women Baroness Stedman-Scott announced plans to support women returning from caring roles to re-enter the sector.
Hundreds of scholarships have been made available by educational institutions and philanthropic trusts to support young women in their STEM studies. Colleges and schools are proactively encouraging their female students to undertake STEM studies. Yet, women still make up only 16.5 per cent of engineers, and 19 per cent of engineering students in the UK.
This is not due to a lack of talent. Far from it – women have always been at the heart of innovation in science and technology. Indeed, Marie Curie was one of great pioneers in unlocking the power of nuclear and received two Nobel Prizes for her work in 1903 and 1911.
It’s also not the case that women and girls don’t want to become engineers. A 2019 study by UK education provider QA found that more than half of girls surveyed would be interested in a STEM career. However, 78 per cent of respondents reported that they were discouraged by gender inequality in the field.
From this, it’s clear that we need to proactively change the face of engineering – allowing young women to envisage themselves in engineering careers.
In nuclear engineering, women have been fundamental in constructing the UK's network of nuclear power stations, including Sizewell B, and most recently Hinkley Point C. From leading businesses across the supply chain, to problem solving on some of the most complex engineering challenges, women are stepping up to deliver nuclear for Britain.
Our next large-scale nuclear project, Sizewell C, will build on this legacy, ensuring we can bring hundreds more women into engineering.
At Sizewell C, we're committed to increasing the percentage of women in nuclear - from 22.3 per cent today to 40 per cent by 2030. To do this, we're making sure that our workplace is set up to encourage and maximise women's potential.
We are going about this in a number of ways.
We are working with educational institutions in the local Suffolk and Norfolk area, engaging young women to learn about the possibilities that await them in nuclear engineering. As part of this, we have conducted tours of Sizewell B nuclear power station, where local female students have witnessed how women are powering the UK.
We are committed to making sure women from all backgrounds are represented at Sizewell C. That’s why we’re developing targeted outreach to economically disadvantaged and hard to reach groups. Through bursaries for education and training, we’ll make sure that opportunities at Sizewell C are accessible to all.
We’ve established a Gender Balance Network, who meet regularly to report on how we can make sure women are supported and retained in our workplace. Already, 50 per cent of our apprenticeships go to young women. We've also joined Women in Construction, which is an independent not-for-profit committed to changing the face of the construction industry. We now have a team of excellent women working on getting Sizewell C off the ground.
Right now, it is an incredibly exciting time for new nuclear power in the UK. The government has recognised that nuclear energy will have a critical role in our nation’s future and has included nuclear as a fundamental part of its Energy Security Strategy.
New nuclear has the power to unlock massive benefits for the UK. Sizewell C will power millions of homes, while avoiding nine million tonnes of carbon emissions a year. Furthermore, it will provide the high-volume baseload power which we need to support the expanding renewable sector.
On top of this, our supply chain is expected to generate £7 billion for businesses up and down the UK through construction. This will lead to approximately 70,000 jobs, across 3,000 suppliers. Meanwhile, the site will provide 7,900 jobs in construction, and 1,500 apprenticeships, of which half will be offered to women.
Getting Sizewell C built is an unrivalled opportunity for women in nuclear. It will ensure we can bring more women into the sector and change the face of nuclear engineering for generations to come.