THE BLOG

Launching a Women's Network

26/01/2015 16:16 GMT | Updated 28/03/2015 09:59 GMT

Recently, as part of my crusade to encourage more young women to take up a career in science and engineering I was given the opportunity to start a women's network here at Sellafield Ltd - an opportunity I jumped at.

The event brought together 200 women from right across the business at all levels, including some from our supply chain community. Given that there are over 10,000 people who work in and around the Sellafield site we decided the best way to invite people was to ask all of the teams to nominate an individual they felt would benefit from, and add value to, an event like this.

Interestingly, this process threw up an issue that seems to affect women much more than men, (particularly those at lower pay grades) - an overwhelming reaction of 'I don't think I'm what you're looking for.' It's a generalisation but women often lack the confidence in their abilities and think it's so important that they truly feel empowered. It's down to us to get them thinking 'I'm exactly what you're looking for!'

That might be easier said than done but once, on the day, we'd got over that hurdle and had the 200 women of all ages and stages of their careers together, the benefits quickly became obvious. I mentioned in my last blog that there's a real shortage of younger role models who some of the aspiring young women in the industry can directly relate to. Events like these are a great catalyst for producing these role models and hopefully the women who attended left feeling inspired and energised to go out into the community and extol the virtues of a career in nuclear for women!

When I set up the event, one of the things I felt was really important was that the speakers chosen should reflect the varying levels of the people in the room. With that in mind we had eight speakers including Energy Minister Baroness Verma and our very own apprentice sisters - Stephanie and Lynsay Kelly. Stephanie is currently Cumbria's Apprentice of the Year and Lynsay won the Nuclear Institute's Jack Edwards award for Best Technician, so they are a talented pair! The speakers were fantastic and I know that everyone there felt genuinely enthused about the opportunities open to them when they left the room.

Feedback from the event has been overwhelming, with 92% of those who came expressing a desire to stay involved with the network. We've also been approached by the Cumbrian police who want to do something similar, so this clearly isn't an issue exclusive to the nuclear industry and I'd love to see similar networks set up in all walks of life.

The reality is that women and men are different, and things such as childcare and a stigma attached to being a part time worker are real issues that need to be addressed. No doubt we're all trying but more needs to be done. Interestingly on a recent leader to leader programme we went into schools and asked those doing their GCSE's about their career aspirations. A stark difference between the boys and girls soon became apparent. While both want money (of course!) boys were much more likely to want power, to be the boss, whereas girls said that they wanted to be valued at work and inspire others. This is a simplified illustration that shows at its most basic level that one size doesn't fit all - diversity is key in any organisation and we need to tailor our approach to attract the best.

I'm really hopeful that as we, and others, continue to build these networks we can create coaches and mentors that will bring through the next generation of budding young scientists and engineers. The women's network launch event made me think about what the room full of people could do if they all got out into schools. In an industry lacking role models potentially mobilising 200 more is a huge step forward.

I'll leave you with my favourite line from the day, an unnamed male colleague who was at the event said to me: "I've just been re-calibrated by the women on my table" - food for thought indeed!

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Left to right:

Stephanie Kelly (Sellafield Ltd apprentice), Pete Lutwyche (NDA), Sue Fearns (Prospect), Baroness Verma, Ruby McGregor-Smith (Mitie CEO), George Beveridge (Deputy Managing Director Sellafield Ltd), Lynsay Kelly (Sellafield Ltd engineer), Me!